First Bell: September will see introduction of 12-year school system

September 1 will mark the beginning of a new school system for Armenia, introducing a 12-grade structure.

Since Soviet times, Armenia’s education system has been based on a 10-grade program. Beginning this year, the system will be divided into primary (grades 1-4), secondary (5-9) and high school (10-12).

“These reforms are inescapable since the majority of the Council of Europe member-countries who have joined the Bologna Treaty have accepted the 12-year education system. If we don’t then we will need to build our education on the 30,000 square kilometers that will not be recognized beyond these borders,” said Levon Mktrchyan, the RA Minister for Education and Science.

Schools are presently preparing additional classrooms and teachers are taking re-qualification training. Many parents, though, don’t want their children to study 12 years, and are trying to enroll children in classes where the 10-year system is being phased out.

“A 12-year education will be very difficult for the boys, they will finish at 18 and will immediately be conscripted to army. I will now do everything; I will even give bribe, to have my child study in the class with 6.5-7 year old children,” says Serine Grigoryan who has already applied to several schools and has been denied.

Marietta Matghashyan, principal at the Pushkin school in Yerevan says she has been asked for such things for already two years, but the law provides exact age of admission.

“Many bring children at 5, just to have it finish the school earlier, but everyone understands this year the law is adopted and that is it, there will be no exceptions, only the law will work,” says Matghashyan.

Many share the concerns of finishing the school early, but the Ministry of Education says amendments will be made in the law on compulsory military service by 2018 when the first 12-year students graduate.

“There are still 10 years ahead, we have appealed to the Ministry of Defense and hope the conscription age will be changed to 19 by that time,” says Narine Hovhannisyan, Head of the General Education Department of Ministry of Education.

Though the 12-year study program has worked abroad, some here think age six is too young to become a full-time student. (Previously younger children attended school only half a day.)

Narine Israelyan, clinical child psychologist, is concerned with the health of the children, insisting going to school for a six-year-old child is too early.

“Maybe many are ready to become pupil in terms of mental capabilities but in emotional and volitional terms they are not quite ready,” says child psychologist Narine Israelyan. “I have many patients among those who have entered school early and who have overtiredness and formed neuroses at the age of 9 to 10.”

Hovhannisyan says during the 12 years the education for children will be more substantial and the teachers are re-trained and the classes will be less intense.

“While the previous system taught the alphabet in just 4 months at the expense of the parents and children tension, in this case the children will learn to write and to read by means of games and easier programs during one year,” says Hovhannisyan.

Gohar Siranosyan says she was unaware that her son, who turns six this year, would have to start school in September.

“We didn’t know whether the law would be passed or not, my child is ready neither psychologically nor mentally, if I knew I would prepare him,” says Siranosyan.

Prepared or not, in three months 53,000 children will enter school for the first time and will be the first of a new generation in Armenia’s education system.