Teleconferences - 2008
Yerevan-Los Angeles (California)
Teleconference with representatives of the RA Ministry of Diaspora and Armenian schools of Los Angeles
January 27, 2009
Start: 8 a.m.
Hranush Hakobyan: RA Minister of Diaspora
Stepan Petrosyan: RA Deputy Minister of Diaspora
Tigran Harutyunyan: Head of the Department of Information and Telecommunication of the RA Ministry of Diaspora
Sirvard Hambaryan: Head of the Division of Science and Education of the Department of Pan-Armenian Programs of the RA Ministry of Diaspora
Nune Vardanyan: Head of the Department of Diaspora Affairs of the RA Ministry of Education and Science
Tamara Zalinyan: Chief Specialist at the Department of Diaspora Affairs of the RA Ministry of Education and Science
From Los Angeles:
Tomik Alexanian: Vice-president of the Iranian Armenian Society of USA
Vazgen Musheghian: Chamlian Armenian School
Janik Tsaturian, Onik Hayrapetian: Davtyan-Mariamyan Seminary
Ani Andreasian: Marie Manoogian Seminary
Khachik Janoian: Tekeyan Saturday School
Voskan Mkhitarian: “Mekhitarist Fathers” Seminary
Vigen Hakobian: Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School
Nora Gulumian: Armenian School of Pasadena
Irina Simonian: Saturday School of the Iranian Armenian Society
Twenty seven representatives of AGBU High School, Armenian Sisters Academy, Charlotte and Elise Merdinian School, St. Hovhannes Saturday School, Armenian Family Saturday School, Arshak Tigranian College, St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Armenian Christian School, Armenian Educational Foundation of UCLA, Mashtots College, “Knar” School, “United Youth” Armenian Saturday School, “Levon and Hasmik Tavlian” Preschool and Kindergarten, “Ron and Goharik” Armenian School, Ari Guiragos Minassian Armenian School, Armenian Mesrobian Elementary and High School and the Armenian Tufenkian School.
Head of the Department of Information and Telecommunication of the RA Ministry of Diaspora Tigran Harutyunyan began the teleconference by welcoming and presenting the participants.
Vice-president of the Iranian Armenian Society, Mr. Tom Alexanian welcomed all the participants of the conference in Los Angeles and expressed gratitude to the RA Government for providing the opportunity to organize a teleconference to discuss the key issues facing Armenian schools.
Rubina Pirumian welcomed the participants and attached importance to the significance of the event. She wished that the event would go on to become a real bridge between the Armenian schools of South America and the Homeland. She also mentioned that she had participated in several events organized by the Ministry of Education and Science and talked about Diaspora Armenian teachers’ training and conferences devoted to education. Pirumian considered the activities of the RA Ministry of Education and Science as a great destined mission to solve educational issues facing the Diaspora.
The second speaker was Vazgen Musheghian from Los Angeles (Chamlian School). Musheghian mentioned that representatives of Armenia had visited the school two times and attached special importance to the visit of RA Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan. During her visit, the Minister had expressed hope that Armenian schools of Los Angeles would be the ones to carry out the praiseworthy act of organizing courses on Armenian education, language and history for the young generation.
The next speakers were the school principals and teachers. Representative of Manoogian-Demirchian School said: “We must give a comprehensive solution to the issue of education, textbooks, as well as teacher preparation and training.” The representative considered the training of Armenian community leaders as the most important issue facing Armenian schools and talked about the need to organize visits of Diaspora Armenian student groups to Armenia.
Rubina Pirumian expressed concern over the “issue of Armenian education for the Eastern Armenian-speaking sector” in Armenian American communities over the past years. According to her, Armenia must seriously consider this issue, the preparation of textbooks to take care of the educational needs, as well as the issues concerning the transition to a unified orthography.
The principal of one of the schools attached importance to the issue of Armenian children visiting the Homeland, living there for one or two months and getting acquainted with Armenian life, culture and history. According to the speaker, there must be steps taken in order for Diaspora Armenian children to “visit the Homeland more often and in an organized fashion.” This will create favorable conditions for connecting them to the Homeland and helping them recognize Armenia.
Mrs. Hranush Hakobyan spoke enthusiastically about the “Rose and Alex Pilibos” Armenian School where she had been during her working visit to the USA. She did not forget to mention that the school had an issue of adding instructional, methodological and children’s literature printed in Armenia to the library. In general, Armenian schools of the USA still don’t have access to new textbooks printed in Armenia and the Minister assured that they would receive them. The Minister also compared the past and present of the Alex Manoogian School. She had been at the school a couple of years ago and felt pain after she saw how the school had been completely transformed into an English language school. However, in fall 2008, Hakobyan was pleased to see that the school had become fully Armenian with teachers providing Armenian education and discipline to Armenian children.
In response to the speaker who raised the issue of organizing Diaspora Armenian children’s visits to the Homeland, the Minister mentioned that the desire is in line with the “Come Home” project of the RA Ministry of Diaspora aimed at preserving the Armenian identity. Within the framework of the project, many 15-25 year old youth will pay visits to Armenia. “We are ready to host thousands of youth who will spend their vacation by recognizing the Homeland. They will live with Armenian families, participate in Armenian language courses, get acquainted with historical-cultural monuments. We must do everything we can to make the abstract, imaginary Homeland into a reality and so that the youth will return home as part of Armenia,” said the Minister and was applauded by the representatives from Los Angeles.
Chief Specialist at the Department of International Cooperation of the RA Ministry of Education and Science Tamara Zalinyan spoke about the steps taken to secure textbooks for Diaspora Armenian students. She informed that Armenian schools of the USA still haven’t applied for textbooks and mentioned that the Ministry has started working on creating the textbook and curriculum for Armenian language as a second language for English-speaking children.
Representatives of Los Angeles suggested preparing a 20-25 minute film about Armenian history, culture, as well as the greats of the nation which is necessary for the Armenian upbringing of Diaspora Armenian children.
Representative of “Rose and Alex Pilibos” Seminary Vigen Hakobian said that the “issue of Armenian upbringing has a psychological, sociological meaning” for Armenian children growing up in the Diaspora. In that sense, Armenian children living in Armenia and the Diaspora must unite as one. Diaspora Armenian youth must become a part of Armenia and youth in Armenia must become a part of the Diaspora.”
Speaking once again about the “Come Home” project, the Minister pinned down the fact that the project must first and foremost benefit Armenia and mutual recognition. “The important thing is not where we were born, but that we are all Armenians and part of Armenia.”
“We are very excited about the “Come Home” project,” said Rubina Pirumian.
The discussion continued on the need to use the latest technologies in Armenian language teaching. “Currently, books are giving way to computers, new methods and the Internet. Since there are still no instructional curricula and textbooks in Armenia via the Internet, it is impossible to turn Armenian into an attractive language like English,” said representative of “Arshak Tigranian” School Vardges Kuroian. In response to this, Chief Specialist at the Department of International Cooperation of the RA Ministry of Education and Science Tamara Zalinyan underscored that the Ministry is currently working on developing and releasing textbooks on DVDs.
“Special materials for each region, the characteristics of the given region and country must be taken into account while preparing the DVDs. The same textbook can’t be sent to Argentina and the USA. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Science takes into account the fact that the textbooks are for Armenian children speaking a foreign language,” emphasized RA Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan.
Kuroian also deemed it necessary to combine efforts of Armenian and Diaspora Armenian specialists and educators in textbook design. Tamara Zalinyan added that the Ministry of Education and Science has a certain amount of experience in preparing textbooks for Armenian schools by taking into account the above mentioned considerations. The Ministry has updated textbooks for Iran, provided Armenian schools of Iran with new textbooks and sent an Armenian expert to Syria for 8 months to create a curriculum, textbooks and workbooks for Armenian language teaching. Mrs. Hakobyan suggested creating a working group of educators at Armenian schools of the USA in order to discuss educational issues and develop programs.
Rubina Pirumian said that the number of children studying in daily seminaries is decreasing and a majority of children attend Saturday and Sunday schools.
Principal of the “Davtyan-Mayramyan” School Janik Tsaturyan said that the Iranian Armenian Society has 26 Armenian Sunday schools and spoke about the issue of their concern, that is, the small number of Armenian schools due to the fact that 50,000 Armenian children attend American public schools. Twenty one years ago, they had sounded the alarm in the US with the slogan “Fight against assimilation”. Janik considered this as the issue concerning 55 educators teaching at the schools of the Iranian Armenian Society. It must be accepted as a fact that “we are raising English-speaking Armenian children and the majority of them speak English in Armenian schools.” Tsaturyan proposed to start from the general psychological analysis of the issue.
Touching upon this issue, principal of the Mekhitarist Armenian School Voskan Mkhitarian said that one of the reasons why most Armenian children attend American public schools is the high tuition rate at national seminaries. Many Armenian families are simply not able to pay for Armenian education. In addition, the lack of Armenian religious-cultural homes in California (especially national theater) also makes Armenian children not want to be close to national spiritual-cultural values or not feel the need for national roots. Thus, receiving an Armenian education is no longer a necessity. Of course, according to Voskan Mkhitarian, there is always a need for help from Armenia’s government, but they must first and foremost solve issues within the community and the issues concerning education.
Representative of the Tekeyan Saturday School Khachik Janoian deemed it necessary to create other textbooks for Saturday and Sunday schools because unlike full-time schools, classes last 2-3 hours and that is not enough time to complete the curriculum. Janoian said that if Armenia started the process, the school would be willing to contribute.
Correspondent of the Iranian Armenian Society’s Saturday school Irina Simonian said that their school offers three hours of classes and there are 160 students. But the problem is that the school brings textbooks from Iran designed especially for Iranian Armenian children due to lack of special textbooks for Armenian American children.
In her response, Mrs. Hranush Hakobyan earmarked two issues of utmost importance.
The first issue was the creation of Sunday schools, especially in Russia. Mrs. Hakobyan said that the Ministries of Diaspora and Education and Science must work on creating textbooks and curricula for Armenian language and history by taking into account the demands and particularities of the countries. The second issue was the preparation of expert teachers in Armenian schools of the Diaspora. Hakobyan mentioned that the Armenian government has allocated spots for state orders for Diaspora Armenian students wishing to study subjects relating to Armenian studies. “Any Diaspora Armenian student coming to Armenia will be able to study Armenian language, literature, art and history free-of-charge,” said the Minister and was warmly applauded by the teleconference participants from Los Angeles.
Mrs. Hakobyan considered teachers’ salaries as another important issue. Teachers’ salaries must make them want to teach and students should strive to study to become teachers. This is an urgent issue because according to data from the past years, there have not been any Diaspora Armenians studying teaching as a profession at Armenian universities. The communities must also work toward that.
Hranush Hakobyan considered the preparation of experts of Armenian studies as one of the objectives of the department of Diaspora studies created at Yerevan State University under the initiative of the RA Ministry of Diaspora. “The curricula must include history of Armenian communities, Eastern Armenian language and ethnic psychology. The department must prepare specialists of Western Armenian and study what the Diaspora needs,” said Hakobyan. In terms of teachers, the communities must also work to find youth who will wish to work as teachers at Armenian community schools. The communities must also find means to prepare Diaspora Armenian specialists of Armenian language and history and send them to Armenia for long-term instruction.
Principal of Davidyan-Mayramyan School Onik Hayrapetian also expressed his considerations during the teleconference, saying that Armenian schools need audio-visual resources, including videos, games and animated films. He also mentioned that teaching the alphabet would be very successful “if it was developed through technological resources and other interesting methods in order to make it more enticing and attract students.” He shared the Minister’s idea of creating a California-based working group of educators to develop curricula and textbooks. He also attached importance to the prospective programs for 5-10 years, further analysis and seeing the future issues. Onik Hayrapetian informed that their schoolteachers teach mainly according to the curricula and textbooks developed by the school.
Armenian schoolteacher of Pasadena Nora Guyumjian said that it was important for the Homeland to establish a system to encourage Diaspora Armenian student and grant awards. Mrs. Hakobyan assured that awards must be granted not only to students, but teachers and principals as well. The Ministry is currently working on celebrating February 21 as Armenian language day and calls on the Diaspora to celebrate this day as well. The RA Ministry of Diaspora considers this day as the launch of events dedicated to Armenian language and the same day next year as the day to recap the events with awards in different categories, including “Best Teacher of the Year”, “Best Principal of the Year” and “Best Student of the Year”.
Hranush Hakobyan also spoke about a number of projects of the Ministry to be implemented in 2009. The Ministry’s objective is to create a professional network of the potential of all Armenians and develop relations between Armenia, the Diaspora and between Diaspora Armenian communities by organizing the pan-Armenian forums of lawyers, architects, businessmen and Diaspora Armenian graduates of RA universities in Yerevan.
Tom Alexanyan of Los Angeles expressed gratitude to the RA Minister of Diaspora and considered the teleconference dedicated to educational issues as a historical event which will surely contribute to creating a bridge between Armenia and the Diaspora.
In her closing speech, the Minister attached importance to the role of Armenia’s diplomatic representations in work with the Diaspora. According to her, Armenia’s embassies and consulates must play the role of intermediaries between the RA Ministry of Diaspora and the Diaspora and help solve issues on the road toward development of the Armenia-Diaspora partnership. According to the Minister, there must be a group of educators under the Los Angeles Consulate to help the Ministry of Diaspora and solve issues concerning Armenian education and upbringing in Armenian schools. “We must have a strong and capable Armenia and Diaspora,” said Minister Hranush Hakobyan as she thanked the participants and ended the teleconference.