I was recently invited to join a Facebook group called (translated from Armenian) “We Are Opposed to the Reopening of Foreign-language Schools.” Apparently this is a reactionary movement to a planned boarding school that will be opened in Dilijan sometime in 2013. It will be called the Digital International School of Armenia and is supported by the Armenian government.
From what I understand, the group is essentially against education being taught to students in languages other than Armenian. This mindset is a bit ironic seeing that Russian-languages schools existed in Armenia during Soviet times and were in some ways considered superior to Armenian schools. Also Armenian was certainly taught in those schools, although the overall education, like mathematics and science, was given primarily in Russian. Apparently the Ministry of Education is proposing an amendment to the law on language so that the Dilijan school can operate legally.
Behind this school are several intellectuals and influential businessmen–both Armenian and non-Armenian. One of them is the former president of Brown University and current president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian. Another trustees member is fellow Bostonian Noubar Afeyan, a highly successful entrepreneur who had a lot to do with strengthening the good reputation of the St. Stephen’s Elementary School in Watertown, Massachusetts, where students learn Armenian as part of their daily curriculum.
One of the goals of the Dilijan School, according to the web site, is to provide students with the “ability to interact with people of different cultures and backgrounds, building and supporting ties is essential for individuals in the dynamic global community.” So why are some Armenians opposed to that? What is so wrong with getting a primary education taught in the English language if it will prepare students for global learning, awareness and presumably national leadership? Opponents seem to believe that the national law declaring Armenian as the state language will be violated with the functioning of this school. I haven’t seen anything on the school’s web site mentioning that Armenian will not be taught or else be banned from being spoken, so I don’t see the problem.
Now if opponents think that opening new foreign language schools should not be a solution to the broken educational system of Armenia, they are right. The corrupted educational system is in dire need of overhaul, there’s no doubt about that. All you have to do is listen to teenagers speak Armenian to realize something is quite wrong. However, society has really nothing to fear from foreign language schools being opened, especially if the education offered at such schools will be superior to that offered in public school systems. I am assuming that the Dilijan school will be private–if that’s the case, it’s not a good thing necessarily since any child who can demonstrate prowess should be allowed to attend for free, regardless of financial background. However, apparently that is not the case. I think more information is needed about what this school intends to instill before people jump to conclusions believing that education in Armenia as we know it is under threat. If opponents to the school really want to be constructive, they should campaign for the Minister of Education to crack down on corruption rather than oppose this school and others like it from opening because they will violate the law on language or whatever else.
I really think this movement is flawed, the focus should be redirected at overhauling Armenia’s educational system on a global scale. Let’s focus on schools in the regions first by making sure they all have decent sanitary conditions, heating systems, and roofs. In the meantime, let students be taught in English if they want to be, I cannot find anything wrong in that, especially when they aspire to become successful movers and shakers in their communities.