“The reform agenda should derive from reality” - PM familiarized with MESCS programs
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Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan today visited the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport (MESCS) to discuss the Ministry’s ongoing and upcoming programs. The meeting was attended by Chief of Staff of the Office of the Prime Minister Arsen Torosyan, Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport Vahram Dumanyan, the Deputy Ministers, the heads of MESCS-affiliated agencies, other dignitaries.
Welcoming those present, Prime Minister Pashinyan said: “Reforms in the field of education are usually very difficult; our case is no exception. But I am glad to state that we have made serious changes in the content during this period. In particular, we can state that the standards for primary and general education have already been adopted. Now we are working to develop the academic standards, and I am confident that we will succeed in our efforts. It should be noted that we have come to the conclusion that it is important to change not only the content, but also the physical, financial and economic environment.
I want to reiterate that we are now trying to put on an institutional basis an issue that has been at the top of our political and educational agenda for many years ever since the first days of Armenia’s independence. I mean the teachers’ salary payment system, this is a very serious topic, because on the one hand, we record the importance of the general education and academic standards, but we do not record a very important nuance: we must make sure that the teacher meets the criteria established by the state and accordingly get a decent salary, which in turn will help create incentives, motivation for teachers’ professional training and will highlight the importance and the dignified nature of their work.
We are going to change the system of teachers’ payment and salary from September this year with the following logic. The salary of teachers who have been successfully attested, i.e. confirmed their professional qualification, will be increased by 30-50% in the initial period. And I am convinced that in the future, as a result of systemic reforms, we will have tangible progress in this field, I mean the standards of general education and individual disciplines, as well as the system of certification.
This process is proceeding slowly, nevertheless, we are steadily moving towards the adoption of the Law on Higher Education and Science, which is a change in the content environment. But we have come to the conclusion that in this case, too, we must be able to combine the change of the content environment with the change of the physical environment. And here I would highlight the idea of establishing an academic city by moving some or most of our higher education institutions from the center of Yerevan - preferably outside Yerevan, at least not far away – we will build an academic city, which with its environment, logic, urban development will ensure the introduction of new content in the higher education system of Armenia. We must push this project forward, because I think it is obvious that many of our universities have the following problem, among others, that their physical environment does not meet the modern standards of higher education.
In many cases, it is simply impossible to rectify this situation, therefore, I think that the establishment of an academic city should become one of our most important tasks in the physical environment of higher education. By the way, since 2021 is an Olympic year, I would like to associate the issue with the development of sports, because in any case, it should be noted that in countries with developed sports, student sports represent a strong impetus for the popularization and development of sports in general. I regret to say that many of our universities, for example, do not boast all necessary conditions for the development or even existence of student sports.
In this regard, too, I consider the project of the academic city extremely important. This is an Olympic year, today we will discuss what to do in the Olympic year. The Olympic Games should have taken place last year, but they were deferred for the pandemic, but they are supposed to be held this year, and we will see what to do and what to expect
Now I would like to address the change in the volume of research funding. There is, in fact, no misinterpretation here, not even a debate. There is no need to say that science funding should be increased, especially in the new environment. But it is important to have a system that will help us to make a better use of money in order to actually finance science and ensure proper remuneration for our scholars and researchers and create a corresponding environment for people engaged in science. About 10 days ago we had a consultation in the government, we reached agreements, and we will hear where we have reached in terms of implementation of those agreements.
And finally, I would like to say the following about the cultural sphere. I have had several occasions to state that culture is a way to improve the quality of relations between two arbitrary citizens. Our political position is that culture is an integral part of education; therefore, culture is supposed to continuously raise the intellectual level of society. But in the new geopolitical-military-political situation, I wish to emphasize one important function of culture that we have not forgotten, but whose role, unfortunately, has been underestimated for a long time, we must evaluate the role correctly. I mean the cultural function of the platform for developing public debates on strategic issues.
We think a lot, analyze the processes that took place in the context of the Karabakh issue; the in-depth and serious analysis of the situation led us to the following controversy - I cited the example of Karabakh, but we can talk about any strategic issue - a certain discourse is formed on cultural platforms, which becomes a public consciousness. And if the discourse on cultural platforms does not correspond to the content of the negotiations that are taking place in reality, the crisis becomes inevitable, since no government can oppose the public consciousness, which is first of all developed and formed on the cultural platforms.
We need to pay serious attention to this issue, because in some cases the social and cultural networks are the most important platforms where the public’s strategic perceptions, aspirations are being forged, and the government’s policies cannot and should not be at odds with the discourse shaped on those platforms. If there is a deviation there, the severance, the crisis is inevitable. And in many cases it is because of this problem that we are not able to achieve real development. because in cultural platforms a kind of public consciousness is formed - speech, and in real life - in politics, behind closed doors, an attempt is being made to form a completely different speech, which, in the end, will not be possible to implement, because it may contradict the public discourse so formed.
If we look back at the world history, we will see that the reality we have is first formed in books, plays, novels, then it becomes reality. And this is the most important record. I mean, policies are generally formed, yes, in governments, as a result of political discussions. But it is crucial what connection they have with the discourse that a society forms on cultural platforms, because real thinking is formed here, and we must be able to see the linkages between the real politics, the discourse and the ideas formed in the cultural environment.
I do not mean at all that political speech or cultural discourse should be dominant, I am saying that there should be an organic connection here, because this is a viable policy that takes into account the peculiarities of public thinking and the political realities that are formed in a real relationship environment.
I would also like to thank all of you in advance for the work that has been done during this period. We will resolutely continue to implement those badly needed programs that we consider of paramount importance by defying the challenges we may face in practice. This means that many reforms are simply too late, but not only should it not keep us from following those reforms, but, on the contrary, it should increase our resolve.
On the other hand, I would like to emphasize once again a very important feature of the reform agenda, which is related to what I said earlier. After all, yes, the reforms must take place, they should be continued, but, nevertheless, it is crucial for us to make sure that the reforms do not impair the daily life of our citizens. We must not contrast our reform agenda with our reality. The reform agenda should proceed from reality, and in turn reality should affect the reform agenda.
Our reforms should not be contradictory and hostile to our reality, but, on the contrary, they should have an organic connection with reality, derive from reality and feature an understanding of people’s real needs. It is a question of how much we have to reform our reality, as much as that reality needs to change objectively with the logic of increasing its viability. In this regard, I think we need to take into account environmental issues, while at the same time keeping in mind that no business can move forward without leadership. Leadership is what matters most in this process, which we must undertake and comply with that commitment.”
The Prime Minister gave the floor to Minister of Education and Science Vahram Dumanyan, who referred to the general directions of the reforms implemented by the Ministry. The Minister also spoke about the standards that have become the subject of a wide public discourse, noting that the discussions on the Armenian language and history are over, conceptually there is no disagreement, some issues related to the professional essay are currently being discussed, which will be completed soon.
Next, the Deputy Ministers reported on the work done in the aforementioned areas, the current situation and the steps to take ahead. Zhanna Andreasyan presented details on the development and implementation of general education standards. She noted that the roadmap approved by the government envisages that the proposed standards should start to be introduced in September, 2023, preceded by large-scale teacher training events, development of experimental teaching materials, publication and testing of new textbooks.
The pilot testing of the new standards will start in all schools of Tavush Marz in September, 2021. Preparatory work is being done; the teachers, principals and administrative staff are being trained. There is also the issue of infrastructure modernization. To this end, laboratory equipment is being purchased for testing in Tavush Marz under EU-funded grant program.
In cooperation with the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, work is underway to establish a virtual mathematics laboratory, which will be tested in parallel. The issue of attracting additional loans for labs and for new textbooks is being discussed with the World Bank.
As a new initiative, it is planned to create a military camp, which will be mandatory for 11-grade students. It should help provide practical training in the subject of initial military training and will be tested this summer. Another initiative is the patriotic training campaigns, which will be obligatory for the 6th and 7th grades. Efforts are underway to teach foreign languages, including the regional languages.
The pre-school educational standards have already been developed; they are now at the final stage of public debate and will be presented to the government in the near future. It is proposed to introduce a public funding component for some target groups, which would involve, in addition to community funding, state participation in the development of pre-school education. According to international experts, the current pace of reform is optimal.
The Premier prioritized the development of the physical environment in the field of pre-school education, referring in this regard to the program of construction of modular preschools. In this connection, Mrs. Andreasyan reported that some 5 dozen communities have been singled out, where it is expedient to build modular preschools. The methodological and financial evaluation of this project is currently being discussed.
Nikol Pashinyan instructed Chief of Staff of the Office of the Prime Minister Arsen Torosyan to be consistent so that the project discussed would not have a problem with financing and would be implemented in full, including through the use of debt attraction mechanisms. At the same time, the Prime Minister stressed the need for capacity assessment and cost-effectiveness.
“It is a strategic task for us to move away from conservative approaches. For example, we need to raise funds for modular preschools and start building them, after which they will be transferred to the community, so that the latter could cover the remaining costs. Here we can consider the use of subsidy programs,” the Premier said.
Coming to the Prime Minister’s question on the teacher training procedure, Mrs. Andreasyan noted that it will be implemented on a voluntary basis; this year it will involve the teachers engaged in natural sciences. The tests designed to test the teacher’s knowledge are ready; applications will be accepted in May and the testing will take place in September. The successful teachers will be entitled to salary supplements depending on the test results.
More than 2000 applications are expected for this year alone; half the teachers will have gone through this procedure by 2023. It was also reported that in compliance with the Prime Minister’s instruction, steps had been taken to organize a distance learning process in order to fill the shortage of pedagogical staff in about 101 remote settlements. Equipment has been acquired under the Improvement of Education loan program to upgrade the classrooms and laboratories.
The distance learning process is be implemented in September, 2021, using both the teaching capacity available in schools, and in their absence, in cooperation with mentor schools. Arthur Martirosyan reported on the work done with development partners in the fields of education, science, culture, sports, bilateral, multilateral cooperation, resource mobilization, development of strategies and other strategic documents. He referred to youth events, informing that the strategy is being summarized in this field.
A number of educational and youth events related to the CIS will be held in Armenia this year, some of which are due to be held in Kapan, the regional center of Syunik. This refers to the upcoming meeting of the CIS Education and Youth Council, the final stage of the 100 Ideas for CIS contest, which will be preceded by the 100 Ideas for Armenia program. The establishment of youth organizations in the regional centers is considered to be an additional incentive for youth.
The Prime Minister highlighted the importance of having such regional centers nationwide. It was reported that relevant competitions have been held; there are winning organizations, and the funding options are being discussed at this point of time.
According to preliminary estimates, it will amount to 130 million drams. Nikol Pashinyan instructed to continue the process with a view to creating youth centers with educational, cultural and creative components, such as Tumo. “Youth support programs should be aimed at creating an appropriate environment and ensuring real impact,” he said.
Karen Trchunyan presented the reforms being carried out in the field of higher education and science. In addition to developing a relevant draft law, university resources shall be evaluated in order to work out a development a strategy. Work is being done with the relevant departments to assess the labor market demand. The State Committee for Science is discussing the possibility of increasing the funds earmarked not only to academic institutions, but also to universities and research systems. The physical environment of the vision of the academic city was reported during the meeting. Nikol Pashinyan instructed to continue active work in this direction.
The speakers highlighted the need to increase state budget allocations for scientific and scientific-technical activities in Armenia, which will stimulate the creation of a quality education system, the training of highly qualified specialists, and the construction of a knowledge-based economy. In this context, it was agreed that a comprehensive program for the development of the given sphere will be presented by the Authorized Entity within the next 10 days.
The Prime Minister next referred to primary and secondary vocational education, emphasizing the demand for qualified specialists. Issues of quotas of professions, mechanisms of demand-supply chain regulations were discussed, including the steps aimed at establishing professional education-labor market relations with private companies. It was noted that legislative changes are needed; to this end, the Ministry is cooperating with the European Education Foundation. A package of legislative amendments will be submitted to the Government by this summer.
Ara Khzmalyan reported on the work done in the field of culture. An in-depth analysis of the management problems faced by cultural NGOs was carried out and solutions were developed in December, 2020 with the support of the Yerevan mission of the European Union. An important task is to ensure the full development of the institution of directors, which implies financial autonomy, effective management of state property, considering the great potential available in this field. The next step is to define key performance indicators (KPIs).
According to the Deputy Minister, this year the cultural programs and creative resources will be aimed at mitigating the negative impact of the post-war crisis. The Rear is Culture initiative will be implemented in the border communities of Artsakh, Gegharkunik, Syunik and Tavush marzes of Armenia. The works have already started, a visit to Artsakh with the representatives of cultural structures is planned in the near future.
The possibility of involving servicemen with disabilities in various programs is being discussed with the relevant organizations. A national center of aesthetics will be commissioned in Berd village, Tavush in the near future.
A. Khzmalyan advised that a conference is scheduled for April 18, International Day for Monuments and Sites, to discuss with the stakeholders not only scientific but also information policy issues related to the preservation of historical and cultural heritage in Artsakh. A field office of the Blue Shield international organization is going to be opened in Armenia.
The Prime Minister made a point of implementing psychological rehabilitation programs in the post-war period that should feature a mandatory cultural component. “Our post-war cultural policy should be aimed at psychological rehabilitation in order to overcome the crisis,” Nikol Pashinyan said and instructed those responsible to carry out relevant work.
Coming to the activities of the SNCOs dealing with cultural issues, the Prime Minister once again stressed the need to encourage directors to work actively towards increasing their own revenues. At the same time, the Premier made it clear that increasing own revenues does not mean reducing public funding.
Karen Giloyan presented the work done in the field of sports and the upcoming activities. In particular, he referred to Armenia’s participation in the Olympic Games due this summer, the provision of proper training conditions for Armenian athletes. The Deputy Minister informed that for the first time a program of psychological support has been developed to provide necessary psychological training to Armenian athletes in the run-up to the Olympic Games.
Another program is being developed to involve disabled young people, including servicemen, in sporting activities. Cooperation with the Russian Paralympic Committee is underway to this end. A sports school will be commissioned in Artsakh in the near future with shooting, wrestling and boxing clubs. A program to promote student sports is being developed, the idea of launching a specialized sports TV channel is being discussed, and the possibility of providing social guarantees for coaches is being considered.
The Prime Minister stressed the need for consistent efforts aimed at popularizing mass sports and gave relevant instructions. Summing up the discussion, Nikol Pashinyan stressed that the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports is the government agency supposed to generate content, and the proposed reforms should be implemented in line with that very logic.