Last Bell: Parents, students complain about high “school graduation” expenses

Photo: Nazik Armenakyan/Armenianow.com

Despite the fight carried out by different agencies against money collection at schools, this ongoing phenomenon activates at the end of every academic year and particularly during preparations for the so-called Last Bell, or graduation parties, taking place in late May.

On May 27, the Last Bell will ring for around 24,500 students in Armenia, marking the beginning of a new post-school reality for them. Graduation expenses usually include gifts to the school principal and teachers, laying tables during examinations for teachers, who are involved in the process, costs for the Last Bell and graduation events. At least 40,000 drams (about $85) are collected at schools for the preparation of these events.

Minister of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchyan, after becoming a minister a few months ago, sent a circular to school principals and urged parents to modestly celebrate that day, “considering the current situation in our country.”

While school principals on several occasions stated that they “like” the minister’s message, however, the phenomenon of collecting money does not seem to have been eliminated from the educational system.

The Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center recently sent a letter to the Minister of Education, in which facts of fundraising at schools were presented. Even the amount of money, which is collected, is mentioned in the letter.

“We received anonymous calls from parents of students at primary schools No. 14, 51, 82, and 174, as well as at high school No. 29. The parents said that due to the mere fact that the 4th, 9th and 12th are graduating classes a certain amount of money is collected to be just given to the principal,” says Diana Ter-Stepanyan, a representative of the anti-graft center.

While on a visit to the city of Gyumri this week, Mkrtchyan told media that they work with Transparency International and try to verify the authenticity of anonymous calls.

“I have spoken publicly about this several times. The problem is a little out of school. It is more a problem of the society. Fundraising is done by parents. We do not have any fundraising process at schools. We must urge parents, while gathering some money, to consider the fact that in the same class students from both high- and low-income families are studying, and one child should not have a luxurious celebration at the expense of the other. And if there is an instance of fundraising which is done for school principals, we will punish them. However, fundraising is carried out mainly for graduation parties,” said the minister.

However, the Last Bell will be celebrated, and if the appropriate departments have been unable to curb the Armenian traditional luxury, the early April renewal of hostilities in Karabakh has influenced the scenarios of traditional Last Bell events.

“Well, at the beginning we had quite a different idea, but this war has changed [everything], and now even our [Last Bell] event is to focus on the soldiers. Well, we’ll soon have to become a soldier, too. Besides, we have decided not to celebrate the graduation event so luxuriously. I still do not know: maybe we will just not do it at all. Almost everyone has a brother at the frontline,” said one of the male graduate students at high school No. 65 after Leo, in Yerevan’s Shengavit community.