Ofelya Melkonyan has taught for twenty years in Bardzruni, a village in Vayots Dzor Province near the border with Azerbaijan.
Mincing no words, she says that village children are better students than kids in cities. The reason, she says, is the lack of entertainment venues in villages.
The high school where Melkonyan teaches second grade has an enrollment of 36. She remembers that when she started working at the school the enrollment was 100.
Bardzruni, she says, only has a cultural center and billiards hall. The kids, it seems, have nothing better to do but hit the books
Five or the six school graduates last year went on to college.
“The most painful issue at the school is the lack of a foreign language specialist. None come here to work.” says Melkonyan.
The school has a staff of fifteen, and twelve are teachers.
Andranik Margaryan, the school’s principal for the past twelve years, told Hetq that enrollment is decreasing yearly. Young people are leaving the village, he says, and those that remain aren’t marrying.
The school has always taught French as the foreign language of choice, but classes haven’t been held for the last four years – there’s no teacher. Margaryan says that the teachers they had in the past worked on short-term contracts and immediately left.
Margaryan says he’s raised the issue with government officials and has posted teacher vacancy adverts in “Education”, a trade periodical. The principal went so far as to visit Yerevan’s Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences in person last year to recruit a French teacher.
The school principal confesses that the salary the school is offering for a French teacher is relatively low. He says that even foreign volunteers refuse to teach at the school once they find out it’s on the border.
Switching from French to English, a language for which more teachers are available, would be a bureaucratic nightmare, Margaryan says.
While the school cannot provide housing for a French teacher, if one is ever found, but Margaryan says the village will “take care” of the matter on its own.
“Our students are doing great academically in all subjects except foreign language,” says Margaryan.
Avag Gabrielyan, who works at the Vayots Dzor Provincial Administration’s Department of Education, Culture and Sports, says that the government is aware of the problem and are searching for a French teacher for the school.
There are only five other public schools in Vayots Dzor that teach French.
Just like Bardzruni, they are proud of the fact and want to continue that cultural legacy.