Most parents of schoolchildren in Jrarbi, a village in Armenia’s Armavir Province, today gathered in front of the school, protesting conditions inside, and demanding the government pay attention to the issue.
Years ago, ground was broke for a new school, but the site has since been filled in.
The current school building once served as a kindergarten. Residents can’t recall when it was last renovated. The building is in poor condition and lacks many necessities - gym, sport equipment, or laboratories. Students and teachers share a bathroom located outside.
Heating the building is the biggest issue in the winter. Classrooms are heated with liquid fuel. The corridors aren’t heated at all. Holes in the old wooden windows are covered with cellophane.
Vardouhi Mkrtchyan is one of the protesting villagers. Her grandchildren are of school age. She says one of her sons left the village together with his family because of the school. She is afraid that the other one will leave as well, leaving her on her own. Mkrtchyan says that last year the students didn’t attend school for almost three months. Some were sick, and the parents of others didn’t let them go to school.
"Last February, children were told to come to school at 10am, for two hours. How can a child learn five or six subjects in just two hours?” asks Vardouhi. She says that the villagers receive some income from a poultry farm where they work, and that they can support the school a bit if the government pitched in.
Vardouhi spoke about unequal conditions, referring to the quality of education children of the same age studying in different schools receive. There are schools where kids study using computers, while in this one, children must survive breathing the aroma of gas oil.
"Now even a laborer should be literate. The children studying here are deprived of everything," Vardouhi says.
Parents point out the muddy road leading to the school. They say it’s one of the reasons the children get sick.
"Before elections, politicians come and tell big lies. And we believe that everything will be much better. Nobody does anything - they only talk. The only improvement in the school is covering windows with cellophane and using rotten gas oil ovens,” says Armen Nazaryan.
Armen says if the issue is not resolved, he will not risk sending his children to school. He recalls the liquid fuel fire in one of the classrooms last year. Children also feel nauseous because of the gas vapors. They can hardly concentrate on classes.
Narek Zakaryan became director of the Jrarbi Secondary School this past September.
He doesn’t come from the village, and hasn’t managed to get fully acquainted with the school’s history.
Zakaryan says he can understand the parents, since the school is in bad shape. However, he adds: "It’s not the fault of the children that the learning process is being undermined. This is the way classes have been held here for many years. We use liquid fuel, and the windows are covered with cellophane.”
The principal says the number of schoolchildren has decreased from 263 in September to 253 today because of migration or transferring to another school.
Russian language teacher Varditer Karapetyan says that they used to work in worse conditions. The students had classes in the corridor, and the teachers gathered in one corner because they didn’t have a teachers’ room. However, the former principal managed to add classrooms by transforming the existing ones.
"What can we do if our government is poor? We would also like to work in better conditions. But that’s the situation. We cannot complain,” says Karapetyan.
The Armavir Provincial Administration told Hetq that Governor Ashot Ghahramanyan has informed Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan about the parents’ protest.
The government has promised to solve the heating issue soon, allaying the concerns of parents for now.