The state human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, has asked Armenia’s highest court to stop the government from charging the parents of public school students for textbooks provided to them.
In a 16-page appeal to the Constitutional Court filed this month, Tatoyan challenged a clause in an Armenian law on education stipulating that only primary school students aged 9 and younger can use textbooks free of charge. He said it runs counter to the country’s constitution which guarantees free secondary education in “state educational institutions.”
“In our view, we have an unconstitutional provision here,” Tatoyan told a public discussion in Yerevan. “Our constitution is very clear and does not provide for any rules … on this issue.”
In his appeal, the ombudsman also pointed to the cost of textbook rent fees which has steadily increased in recent years, saying that many parents have trouble paying them. He said that existing government arrangements meant to exempt low-income families from such payments are fuzzy and open to different interpretations.
“Practical research and our interviews show that often times parents don’t speak up about the difficulty of paying for textbooks out of shame or a desire to spare their children stigmas,” he claimed.
Lusine Bilian is a mother of two schoolchildren who receives poverty benefits from the state. She said that the administration of a Yerevan school where the children study notified her recently that she will have to pay half the cost of their textbooks for this academic year. Bilian estimated it at between 3,500 and 4,000 drams ($7-8).
“I don’t know how I’m going to pay that,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Armenian Education Ministry has not yet officially reacted to the legal action.