Back To School - Number of first-grade students up in Armenia, but some rural communities have noneOn September 1 this year schools across Armenia are opening their doors in front of 400,000 schoolchildren, with 40,000 of them being first-grade students.

Education experts say that as compared with last year, the number of the first-grade students has increased by 2,000. They, however, find it difficult to say precisely how many schools in Armenia will not have first-grade students during the starting academic year.

“On September 10, the arrangements of mix-grade classes (integrated classrooms attended by students of different grades) will be finished and we will have that problem in few, not more than 10 schools,” says Narine Hovhannisyan, the head of the Department of General Education of the Armenian Ministry of Education and Science.

According to Gevorg Ghumashyan, the head of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports of the Shirak province administration, this year the schools in five communities of the northwestern province – Zarishat, Ani Station, Jajur Station, Shaghik and Aghvorik will not have first-grade students.

The same situation is in several villages of Armenia’s southernmost Sunik province.

“We haven’t had first-grade students for two years in succession. Our school has seven students, and there are 187 people living in the village. Lots of people left the village, few people remain here,” Andryush Davtyan, the head of Syunik’s Chakaten village, tells ArmeniaNow.

Zhirayr Patvakanyan, the head of the village of Shikahogh, says they not only lack first-grade students this year but will not have them yet for several years to come, because “the out-migration has taken the kids out as well.” There are only eight students in the school of the village with a population of 115.

Nevertheless, though this year some schools have had few first-grade students, the schoolchildren from the first to fourth grades will be provided with free textbooks, whereas the students of the fifth to 12th grades will continue to rent their textbooks.

Ahead of September 1 the pockets of parents with schoolchildren are getting empty as well. The recently currency rate fluctuations (1 USD reached 482 AMD from 477 within a week) has also affected the level of prices for school clothes and stationery.

“Within a year prices for school items have increased three times. People do the shopping with caution. By spending 30,000 drams (about $62) our customers used to buy four bags of school things, whereas today with the same amount of money they barely get one,” Varduhi Petrosyan, a 50-year-old stationery retailer in Echmiadzin, tells ArmeniaNow.

Hermine Saghatelyan, a 35-year-old mother of two, says parents need to spend some 100,000 drams (over $200) on school things for a child to send him or her to school which is a problem for socially vulnerable families.

“The shoes and the schoolbag of my son have already cost me 30,000 drams ($62), I paid 10,000 drams (some $20) for the shirt, and the same price for his pants. I also paid as much to buy school things for my daughter. We will probably buy only half of the stationery they need, for the time being; it’ll be easier in that way. I also have to rent the textbooks,” says Saghatelyan, a housewife whose monthly family budget makes up 200,000 drams (about $415).

Ahead of September 1 the flowers also grow in price, though florists explain it by the price rise in the wholesale markets.

“Today one can buy a bunch of flowers, which previously cost 2,000 drams ($4), with 4,000 drams ($8), and those which sold at 4,000 drams are sold at 6,000-7,000 drams ($14) today. So I had to buy just one bunch for 6,000 drams,” says Svetlana Gevorgyan, a 25-year-old housewife who is sending her first-grade son to school today.

ArmeniaNow reporter