The ruling coalition pushed through parliament on Thursday government’s controversial legal amendments allowing establishment of foreign-language schools in the country, amid criticism and protests.
Opposition groups, prominent intellectuals and other public figures who regard the amendments as a serious threat to Armenia’s sole official language, have voiced concerns, calling the move a sell-off to Russia.
They refer, of course, to the Soviet times, when Russian language schools operating in Armenia were considered more prestigious and people educated in the regular Armenian-language schools were looked down upon.
Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Yerevan has officially announced Russia has no involvement or special interest in the bill.
The government has already altered the bill twice to appease critics, limiting to 11 the number of schools where the prime language of education could be in a foreign language (supposedly English, French or Russian).
With the second round of amendments especially, the Ministry of Education responsible for the bill, said only two private schools created with private investment and located outside of capital Yerevan would have foreign-language education from 7th grade. The remaining 9 schools would be ‘high-schools’ (9 to 12th grades).
Putting things in a context, it is important to point out, that several foreign language schools operate in Armenia currently, even though their existence is sub-legal, officials say. Quality Schools International is one example, Russian language schools for the families of Russian officers appointed to the Russian military base in Gyumri and border guards, are other examples.
Moreover, all schools offer compulsory Russian, English, French or German language courses, and there are around 30 schools, which have enhanced language courses in Russian, English, French.
I have initially been strongly opposed to the bill, but after the authorities have been forced to agree to very strong limitations, I don’t really see much point in continuing this fight. I was especially concerned with the possibility, that scarce state funding would be taken away from public schools to fund those ‘elit’ ones, but now, my understanding is, that those schools will only be privately funded or be co-funded with inter-governmental agreements, and that’s good enough for me.
Meanwhile, I applaud those civil activists coming from very diverse backgrounds, who fought against the bill and forced more concessions on any bill the government has been eager to push through, than any political force has been able to do in the past decade.