Costly classes: Parents in Armenia see rising expenses as their children get ready for school

Parents looking for stationery, clothes, bags and other items for their children become main customers at street markets and subway stores as the start of a new school year approaches in Armenia.

The traditional “first bell” will sound September 1, to ring in another year of life getting more expensive here.

Varduhi Melikyan, mother of three children attending secondary school, says she chose not to buy new clothes for her children this year. She says she has already spent more than 10,000 drams (nearly $30) on buying various stationary for them.

“I’ve bought a bag only for my elder daughter and have bought shoes for the three of them. They will keep wearing the clothes they had last year,” says Melikyan, adding that as classes begin, she will also need to make other payments, such as for textbooks, the school fund, for “window cleaning” and other purposes, which amounts to quite a round sum given she has three children in school and has to pay for each of them.

Those who unlike Melikyan can afford to buy new clothes and bags for their children are expected to spend about 30,000 drams (more than $80) on average per child. The average is about 30 percent more than last year and as much as 50 percent higher than five years ago.

It takes between 10,000 and 20,000 drams ($27-$55) to buy only clothes for one child, schoolbags are on sale for 5,000-11,000 drams ($13-$30), and the prices of shoes are 6,000-15,000 drams ($16-$41).

Alina Gasparyan, whose son will attend the third grade this year, says she feels very uncomfortable ahead of September 1 as she fears the prices of flowers that children usually present their teachers with will go up and reach “astronomical figures” on that day.

(Sellers of flowers customarily raise prices on “special” days in Armenia, such as public holidays, memorial days or start of classes).

“I’ve already spent 32,000 drams ($88) on clothes, shoes and stationery, and I’ve decided to put aside some 5,000 drams ($13) for the flowers, but I think I can’t get a normal bouquet for that money tomorrow,” says Gasparyan.

A total of 37,390 children will attend school in Armenia for the first time on September 1. The Ministry of Education and Science says the total number of pupils this year will become clear only after September 10.

In the 2010-11 academic year, Armenia will have 1,404 schools, of which 1,313 are main schools and 91 are high schools.

This September 1 will also be different from all the rest by one novelty introduced by the Ministry. All teachers across Armenia will take an oath “to bear the high name of a teacher with dignity, to do produce for the country well-educated and patriotic citizens that are confident in their forces”, and so on.

The decree of the education minister introducing this order has already become a subject for ridicule by many bloggers these days. Some opposition media have also challenged the effectiveness of this move in trying to raise education standards in the country.

According to the press department of the Ministry of Education, tomorrow (Sept. 1) “solemn oath-taking ceremonies will be organized for all teachers of general educational institutions and these ceremonies will be attended also by pupils and their parents.”

Such ceremonies in the future will be organized on each September 1 for those beginning their teaching careers.