LANGUAGE TRAP?: CAMPAIGN AGAINST REMOVAL OF BAN ON FOREIGN LANGUAGE SCHOOLS ON RISE IN ARMENIA
Gayane Lazarian

ArmeniaNow reporter
http://www.armenianow.com/social/educatio n/23122/armenia_foreign_language_education_debate
Education | 14.05.10 | 13:16

A civil campaign is gathering momentum in blogs and internet forums
to stop the government from allowing the removal of the legal ban
on state-funded foreign language schools in Armenia. Critics say
the move will diminish the status of the country's state language,
Armenian, and endanger one of the biggest achievements of independence
- language sovereignty.

While the government says that allowing a limited number of state
schools to teach curricula in a language other than Armenian will only
improve the quality of education in Armenia, critics fear that the
decision reflects the desire to restore primarily Russian language
education, which was banned in Armenia's state schools in the early
1990s shortly after the country gained independence. By that time,
a considerable number of people in Armenia had completed secondary
education in Russian, the state language in the former Soviet Union
that was required for any successful career.

The number of members of a Facebook campaign "We Are Against Reopening
Foreign Language Schools" has exceeded a thousand within a matter of
days and continues to grow.

The controversial legislative initiative of the Ministry of Education
and Science has been sent to the National Assembly for approval. The
discussion of the bill in the legislature is scheduled for next week.

If approved, the changes in the laws "On the Language" and "On
General Education" will lead to the opening of 28 foreign language
(Russian, English) schools where all subjects will be taught in a
foreign language.

Education and Science Minister Armen Ashotyan says the idea would not
have been approved by the government if it were a bad one. According
to him, the establishment of such schools is simply a necessity,
since many turn to him personally to help have their children studying
in Russian.

"Why cannot such [foreign language] schools exist in Armenia,
especially that they already exist in the region - in Georgia,
Azerbaijan, Turkey?" said the minister, stressing that by the proposed
legislation the number of such schools cannot exceed two percent of
the total number of schools in the country.

Armenian Ombudsman Armen Harutyunyan said in a recent interview with
RFE/RL's Armenian Service that anyone has the right to education
that would give them sufficient grounds for continuing it on the
international level in the future.

"I am for our national school to give that kind of education, but
our national school does not give that education. If we had strong
education, we would not be afraid of those [proposed] 28 schools. Who
was an obstacle to us during these 20 years to reform our education
and raise it to the international level?" said Harutyunyan.

Member of the pressure group against the reopening of foreign-language
schools in Armenia, journalist Vahan Ishkhanyan considers the reasons
given by the education minister and the ombudsman to be 'racist'.

"Underestimating the Armenian education that gives an Armenian language
mentality, they show racism against those who have an Armenian language
mentality as they suggest that a person with Armenian education cannot
have international contacts. In reality, facts show that many with
Armenian education have managed to enter the best universities of
the world," says Ishkhanyan.

In a statement issued by the Ararat Center for Strategic Research its
director Armen Ayvazyan points out that the legislation diminishes
Article 12 of Armenia's Constitution by which Armenian is declared to
be the state language of the Republic of Armenia, as well as Article
89 according to which the government of Armenia shall implement state
policy in the sphere of education and which is now properly reflected
in the current law "On the Language".

Armenia's opposition Heritage party also issued a statement saying
that foreign language schools in Armenia can be only non-state,
in a limited number, and be senior schools where Armenian studies,
literature and the Armenian people's history will be mandatory for
citizens of Armenia and where education will correspond to the state
criteria.

Last week, Armenia's main opposition alliance, Armenian National
Congress, also released a statement castigating the government over the
move to introduce the new legislation and saying that the initiative is
"a result of provincialism, threatening to put at stake and destroy
one of the main achievements of independence - the system of united
national school providing general educational."

Members of the civil campaign against the government initiative also
say the opening of foreign language schools is sabotage against the
Armenian language and independent statehood.

They also contest the minister's arguments that foreign language
schools provide higher-quality education: "The Armenian language,
which has a literary history of a thousand years, is capable of meeting
all requirements of the modern-day education system. The quality of
education depends not on the language of teaching but on curricula,
principles of teaching, skills of specialists and approaches to
organization."

The group suggests implementing a large-scale national program,
Translators' Movement, based on the application of information
technologies and translation of world literature to raise the
competitiveness of the Armenian language. They say it is particularly
necessary to create computer-based and online translator programs,
for example Google Translate for the Armenian language, as well as
develop Armenian resources online, such as Wikipedia, and other online
encyclopedic resources.

Members of the initiative group find that by admitting the failure
to solve the problems of the education system and raise the quality
of teaching, including of foreign languages in Armenian schools,
the minister calls into question his own correspondence to the post.