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Grisha Balasanyan

Ashtarak Teachers Strike: Demand Government Makes Good on Promise to Renovate School

No classes were held on May 4 at the Vardges Petrosyan Primary School in Ashtarak, a town of 18,000 in Armenia’s Aragatzotn Province.

None of 600 students were there. Only teachers were present at school. Teachers decided to declare a strike to draw the government's attention to the poor conditions at the school.

Hetq wrote about the building’s condition and education quality issues at the school a few months ago.

Ruzanna Nazinyan has been teaching mathematics at the school for 25 years. She says it’s impossible to hold classes for 600 students in such a small building annex.

Ruzanna Nazinyan

"Imagine 600 students here, walking, not even running, during the breaks. We are afraid of possible accidents," says Nazinyan, adding that their students are deprived of the most basic things that any student in the 21st century would take for granted.

"They do not have, and cannot even imagine what is it like to have, a physics and chemistry laboratory. They graduate from primary school without knowing how to perform an experiment during chemistry class. And let’s not mention the miserable state of gym teachers who’ve held lessons on the street for 25 years, regardless of sun, rain or snow, as they have no space. There is no gym, but gym class must be held, so they go to the street," explains Nazinyan.

As for the students’ right to an education in equal conditions, the math teacher believes it is violated. Nazinyan claims the school is the only educational institution in Ashtarak that has been neglected by all relevant government agencies.

Nazinyan told Hetq that a week ago, one of the teachers at the primary school, who also works at a high school, took the students of the upper grades to her high school, to see what a gym and a computer class look like.

"I feel ashamed, I cannot look them in the eyes. It's very depressing. Why do the high school students have all the conditions to study, while these do not?” asks Nazinyan.

The teacher says that the restrooms are in a most deplorable condition. Not only do they need to be renovated, there are only 2 bathrooms for 600 students.

"Children from elementary classes stand in a queue for half an hour. If the child gets permission to go out, we already know that they will not come back for at least half an hour because of the constant queue at the lavatories," says Nazinyan.

Nazinyan says there’s a high school nearby, named Sisakyan, where the number of students is quite small.

"This year, that school is to be renovated for the third time. But if they would let us move there, there would be no need for any rehab, since the existing conditions are already a luxury for us. At least they’ll save on the national budget. Just one part of this building is enough to accommodate all those high school students, so it can be renovated and given to them. That's the solution we see," Nazinyan says.

She says that school teachers were forced to take drastic action since no one in government has listened to their complaints raised throughout most of last year.

“It’s a last-ditch effort by us,” Nazinyan adds. “Those responsible must heed us. But it’s not our request. Rather, it’s the demand of our 600 pupils and their parents. I can’t imagine not responding to this.”

Chess instructor Armen Grigoryan says that lessons will continue tomorrow. He says the reason for the strike was receiving no response after raising the issue at the beginning of 2016-2017 educational year. Teachers wrote an open letter to the Minister of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchyan, explaining their concerns. The reply they received merely stated that there were no funds to renovate primary schools. If funds were available later, renovation would proceed.

Armen Grigoryan

Armen Grigoryan says that the provincial governor and representatives of the urban construction ministry came to the school months ago and saw the conditions, but nothing has changed since.

"We were promised back in October 2016 that two annexes of the school would be rehabilitated. In 2016, the project's feasibility study should have been carried out at the school, to be followed by construction work in 2017. We waited for the project in 2016. Now it’s the fifth month of 2017 and we have not seen any work," Grigoryan says.

Meanwhile, according to Grigoryan, the provincial government had told the press, including Hetq, that renovation work would be carried out in 2017 with money from the national budget. Afterwards, a parent of one of the school pupils wrote to the prime minister, conveying concerns about the conditions children in the school faced. The parent received a reply that the provincial government could only get around to ordering a project plan in 2018, as a part of its medium-term expenditure program.

"They do not realize the importance of the issue. We’re not asking for the seismic safety issue to be resolved. There are no classrooms for children to learn in. There is no informatics classroom, no gym,” Grigoryan says.

According to Grigoryan, teachers always said that they truly cared about the future of the students, that’s why they have been planning drastic actions. Today's strike is just a warning, one in the chain of those drastic actions. They still hope that authorities "will do something" within three months of summer holidays.

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"It’s nonsense to talk about getting a quality education at this school. As hard as you try, you cannot teach children informatics with books and blackboards, having no computer room or computers. Classes must be divided. It’s not being done because there's no room."

Grigoryan says their protest is not directed against anyone. They are just trying to attract attention He adds that the provincial government should be held accountable for its promises, but no official has come to the school today or met with the teaching staff.

The Aragatzotn Provincial Government’s Public Relations and Press Department told Hetq that Vardges Petrosyan Primary School is at the center of the governor's attention.

They claim the school’s rehab is included in its list of emergency projects, and that people at school are aware of it.

Nobody at the department, however, can say when renovations will begin.