Hard Lessons: Some children stay out of school due to lack of money

While other children dressed in new clothes and toting flowers for teachers skipped off to the first day of school yesterday, 9-year old Alina and 7-year old Serob stayed at home.

“How can they go to school, what should they put on, we don’t have money even for a copy book,” says Paytsar Manucharyan, a mother of four. “I can hardly feed them. Maybe I’ll send them to school next year . . .”

Paystar’s children, bunched in the ruins of the former Arts College building in the fourth cul-de-sac of Atsakh Street in Yerevan are not the only ones who won’t start the school year. Many children living in this yard have only heard about school and have dreamt about it, and some have attended only two or three years.

“All of my three children would study well, but they haven’t attended school since the 4th grade,” says Zhanna Khachaturova, 48, a resident in the same yard. “I would have to give 600 drams (about $1.30) every day only for transportation. But there are days when I don’t have 100 drams for bread, how can I send them to school?”

According to Arsen Adamyan, head of the Education Department at the municipality of Shengavit community, there are no children in their community not attending school: “We help everyone, everyone gets education,” he says.

Even during the harsh years of the early ‘90s, school attendance was at 97 percent. Now, however, according to Human Poverty Study, the number is only 77 percent.

“It is impossible to tell exactly how many children have left schools before graduating, how many have not attended school at all,” says program head of the UNICEF Armenia office Naira Avetisyan. “These numbers are being distorted like the mortality toll in previous times,”

According to her the number of children who have left school and are engaged in work in rural communities has grown, but it is not declared officially, as those children are registered at school.

“Compared to some countries the index of school engagement in Armenia is good,” Avetisyan says. “But it is disturbing that the problem is not paid serious attention, numbers are hidden, and the tendency of children leaving schools is growing; if it goes this way the indices will decrease in several years.”

In an effort to curb the trend, this year the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues of RA has implemented a new program in which socially-vulnerable families who have children attending the first grade can apply for a one time help of 20,000 drams (about $44).

“According to research there are 8-9 year old children who have not yet gone to school, due to financial problems,” says the head of the Social Assistance Department Astghik Minasyan. “According to preliminary data 6,500-6,700 children from families receiving allowances in the republic are going to become schoolchildren this year. The aim of the initiative is to somehow alleviate the problems of those families. Five thousand have already received the money.” Among them is Zhanna Mnatsakanyan, a mother of five, who will send her 9-year-old son to the first grade this year, two years later than he should have started.

“Having three schoolchildren at home is just impossible,” Mnatsakanyan says. “My Karlen should already be in the third grade. There was no money every year to send to school; my poor child is ashamed to sit with 6-7 year old children.”

She says in the beginning of each academic year she spends at least $50 for each child for clothes, bookbags, shoes and stationary, and to purchase textbooks.

“We need to buy 8-11 books for each child. It seems cheap to pay 300-800 drams, but it makes a huge sum for three children,” Mnatsakanyan says. “With an allowance (from the state) of 27,000 drams (about $60) how can I cover the expenses and provide food at the same time?”

According to Nurijan Manukyan, Head of the Public Education Supervision Department at the Ministry of Education and Science, the social situation will improve sooner or later, but the problem is that the attitude towards education changes.

“In the years when I studied there were children who would come to school totally barefooted and studied well,” says Manukyan. “The values have changed today. School has become a place to show off.”

According to Manukyan, children in the age of compulsory education (age 16) who do not attend school should be the responsibility of the communities, who should take account of those children and should do everything to give them education.

ArmeniaNow contacted departments of education in all 10 districts of Yerevan. None admitted having delinquent Armenian children in their district (though they did say that those not attending school were only Kurds or Yezidis).

Zhanna Khachaturova says that during last election campaign, parents in her neighborhood asked for a van to be provided for children who couldn’t afford transportation to school. She says there are seven such children in her building alone and about 20 in her block.

“They only promise, then forget and say there are no such children,” the mother says.