Winter Holidays Aplenty: Flu-caused school closures said to affect first-graders’ adaptation skills

The extension of the school winter break due to the recent H1N1 swine flu virus outbreak may come at a cost, some educationalists believe. But officials in charge of education affairs give assurances that the forced quarantine to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases that have already killed 18 people will not affect the quality of the educational process due to planned additional arrangements.

Last week, when announcing the second extension of the school winter vacation till February 1, Armenia’s Minister of Education and Science Armen Ashotyan sent a circular letter to heads of educational institutions subordinated to the Ministry to ensure implementation of curricula and urging them to catch up on the three-week period of missed classes by using up the spring vacation days. According to the letter, appropriate changes should be carried out by either adding one extra lesson-hour in a weekly schedule or by using Saturdays as schooldays.

The extended holidays, which have been going on for nearly three weeks, have become a subject for public debate spearheaded by teachers, students and parents. Alvina Petrosyan, educational program deputy principal at the Eurnekian secondary school, told ArmeniaNow that health is a priority, and the three-week extension of school classes will not affect the quality of education.

“Had we had many absences of students due to illnesses, the educational process would have been flawed anyway.

And then it would have an impact on the quality of education. We just have to work to fill the gap,” says Petrosyan.

Meanwhile, psychologist Anna Badalyan believes that by keeping students at home they turn them into “greenhouse type of children”.

“We understand that the government may have no resources to ensure a complete solution to students’ health problems, but, remaining at home, children are deprived of volitional qualities, because they will not be able to maintain even basic hygiene rules. They will not know how to behave in cases of emergencies in the future,” Badalyan says.

According to the psychologist, long holidays will hinder the adaptation of especially first-graders, as children at this age just start to adapt to new surroundings and friends, while a long vacation deepens this “crisis”, causing the children to grow out of their skills.

According to Hasmik Sahakyan, a teacher at Benyamin Zhamkochyan School No. 119, however, gives priority to public health.

“Hadn’t the holidays been extended, the number of absentees would have been enormous. There were cases when eight schoolchildren of a 20-member class were sick. Consequently, there was a risk that the disease would spread if students gathered in one place,” says Sahakyan, acknowledging, at the same time, that starting classes one more week later will cause problems of adaptation among students. “The adaptation is difficult with first graders, but students of high schools are not free of the problem either. During holidays they get used to waking up late. In initial grades their brains are not [fully] awake and it is difficult for them to comprehend the lesson.”