Incomprehensible: Critics say textbooks too difficult for schoolchildren

Many pedagogues, school teachers and parents are convinced that a majority of textbooks now used in schools are written in a language often incomprehensible for children of the target age group. Many believe this circumstance breaks students’ urge of knowledge as children tend to give up because of the complex material.

Varduhi Melikyan, mother of a school age child, says that in the past two or three years her children rarely went to bed earlier than midnight as it takes so long to do their homework.

Melikyan says that her daughter, who attends the sixth form, finds narrative subjects very difficult particularly as the material on them, she says, “is not presented in the textbook in a comprehensible manner.”

“For almost an entire day the kid spends learning a difficult text and gets tired very quickly,” says Melikyan.

Karine Harutyunyan, education programs director at the Ministry of Education and Science, explains the prevalence of complex academic style in textbooks by the circumstance that in the joint team working on textbooks scholars and scientists always put pressure on the minority group of teachers – as a result, their version gets published.

(Non-state publishers participate in a tender for textbook publication under the order for publishing school textbooks approved in 1998. It is publishers who find authors and the version by their author is submitted for the tender, with an appropriate design of the textbook. The tender procedure for textbooks is slightly changed beginning this year.)

“Beginning this year, there will be two commissions, independent from each other, for the evaluation of textbooks in each subject – one commission will be made of teachers, the other of lecturers and methodologists. A textbook will be compiled based on their average evaluation,” says Harutyunyan.

The new procedure provides for publishing groups to submit 60 percent of the textbook contents to the Ministry of Education and Science in February (the period of work on textbooks has been extended).

The textbook draft should be tested for two or three months in 50 schools, after which a decision on the large-scale publication of the textbook has to be made in July-August (if the textbook proves its value during the testing period).

Armenia today has 140 textbook titles for schoolchildren from the first to twelfth grades. About 20-30 new titles are submitted for publication every year. The cost of one textbook is about 1,500-1,600 drams (about $5), and schoolchildren pay a quarter of this cost.

Opposition Heritage party MP Anahit Bakhshyan, who for many years worked as school headmistress, thinks that this new procedure violates the Law “On Textbooks” that makes it mandatory for textbooks to be tested in school for a minimum of one year.

Bakhshyan says that the current textbooks on history, literature and the Armenian language contain numerous mistakes, both in terms of grammar and meaning, including historical dates and events.

“For example, in the part of the textbook on modern history that deals with the 2007 parliamentary elections Heritage is not mentioned among the parties that were elected to the National Assembly, which surprised particularly the pupils of School N27, who know very well that I am in this party and that I was elected to parliament,” says Bakhshyan.

The Ministry’s Harutyunyan acknowledges that there are numerous discrepancies in Armenian studies-related subjects. The reason, according to her, is the disagreements that exist among Armenian scholars.

“For one author a given grammatical form, the number of noun cases, a spelling or punctuation rule can be correct, for another one incorrect,” explains Harutyunyan.