An Armenian information technology (IT) association criticized the government on Friday for not financing more engineering labs in public schools, saying that they are essential for continued rapid growth Armenia’s IT sector.
The Union of Information Technology Enterprises (UITE) began organizing extracurricular robotics and computer programming courses for schoolchildren in 2008. More than 5,000 students currently study at the UITE’s Armath labs functioning in 225 schools across the country. They are equipped with computers, robot parts and 3D printers provided by IT firms and other private donors.
Most labs have been opened since 2014. IT instructors running 160 of them are paid by the government. The UITE pays the wages of their colleagues working in the other schools.
“These 65 labs are a major financial burden: around 60 million drams ($125,000) a year,” the UITE chairman, Karen Vartanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “If we keep doing that on our own we will go bankrupt.” He said in that in an effort to earn some revenue and keep the funding them, UITE has teamed up with an Indian tech company to open Armath labs in schools in India.
Vartanian lambasted the Armenian government for not increasing its funding for the Armath program which he said currently totals 120 million drams ($250,000) annually. He insisted that the labs are helping to alleviate a shortage of skilled personnel widely seen as the main challenge facing the Armenian tech industry.
IT is the fastest growing sector of Armenia’s economy, having expanded by over 20 percent annually in the past decade. Local subsidiaries of several U.S. tech giants are a key component of the sector employing about 15,000 mostly young engineers.
Industry executives and analysts say the sector would have grown even faster had the quality of education at IT departments of Armenian universities been adequate.
According to the UITE, many of the students taking IT courses in the Armath labs will be skilled enough to work for tech firms right after finishing school. The union had originally hoped to open such labs in all 1,400 or so Armenian schools by 2018.
Thousands of other Armenian schoolchildren are enrolled in Yerevan’s Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, mainly studying computer programming, robotics and animation. The state-of-the-art center was founded by U.S.-Armenian philanthropist Sam Simonian in 2011 and has since opened several branches in other parts of the country.