Home Alone: Flu-occasioned closure of schools and kindergartens forces family planning

Schools and kindergartens in Armenia are now closed, on the advice of health officials who proposed the closing to the Ministry of Education as a means of combating widespread seasonal flu that has cut class attendance by up to 30 percent.

Late Monday the Ministry of Education announced that all schools will be closed beginning today (December 8).

The closing comes on the recommendation of Armenia's chief infection specialist Ara Asoyan and after consultation yesterday with health and education officials.

There will be no school in Armenia until December 21. Students will then return for one week, after which New Year break begins and last until January 10.

The decision affects nearly 450,000 kids across Armenia, including 386,000 schoolchildren and about 60,000 children attending kindergartens, and just as many families for whom the shutdown throws schedules into chaos.

Santa came early for school children, while efforts are made to control a seasonal flu that has emptied classrooms and filled pharmacies with anxious customers.

But while kids might celebrate through the coughing, the suspension creates different headaches for parents, who now have to sort out how to accommodate keeping children at home, while also maintaining a work schedule.

Mane Madoyan, 23, and Arman Gharagulyan, 32, say kindergarten is a means for them to have a day’s work knowing that their child is well attended. The young couple now say their immediate working schedules are at risk of getting ruined.

“It is natural that your bosses will not agree to give you a week’s leave of absence. Now we have to turn to our grannies and friends to watch our kids till the New Year,” says Madoyan, a State University PR Department employee. (Her husband is a philosophy lecture at the same University).

Family bonds are strong in Armenia and many young couples continue to stay with their parents (usually the husband’s parents) even after getting married, making child care easier and more flexible with the constant aid and presence from the elder generation.

But as Armenian society slowly shifts toward single-family households, not all are lucky to have someone living under the same roof and willing to baby sit.

Lusine Ghubaryan, 37, would have to leave her 7- and 12-year-old children at home for as long as 2 ½ hours. Now that schools will be closed, her child will have to be home alone from morning till 5 p.m., the usual time she gets back home from work. And families who had benefited from at-school daycare will have to find other sources of childcare for the next two weeks.

“My neighbor has a smaller child, who used to stay for extended day care hours at school. In fact, she will be having tough times,” says Ghurabyan, a librarian.

School and kindergarten closures appear to be a lesser problem for people in the provinces where not all are employed. Cold and flu are also widespread there.

Hasmik Bazyan, a resident of the village of Urtsadzor in the central Ararat province, who works at the village’s school, says half of the pupils do not attend classes because of health problems. (Bazyan’s 15-year-old son and daughter are also pupils at the school).

“It is already five days that only six in my fourth grade actually attend. It means that classes should be suspended at least for a week to give the children time to get better. Otherwise, very soon no one will turn up for classes at all,” Bazyan told ArmeniaNow Monday afternoon, shortly before the minister’s decision was announced.

A week’s break, not more, thinks Vurg Stepanyan school N 4 principal Naira Stepanyan in Sisian, southern Armenia. She fears that a longer vacation will leave too little time for the pupils to catch up with their curricula later.

She says that four out of 33 teachers at her school did not come to work, 11 would come in a sick condition, and 62 out of 332 pupils did not attend classes as of Monday.

A rush of activity connected with tests on all subjects was on at some schools as of Monday to have midterm evaluation of pupils finished in anticipation of the ministerial decision.