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In Armenia, the chance to develop schools that children love to attend

© UNICEF Armenia/2008
A peer support group at the child-friendly school in the village of Lernadzor, Syunik province, Armenia.

Education experts from the Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are meeting 24-27 April in Geneva to discuss how to provide quality education for all girls and boys through child-friendly schools. Here is one in a series of related stories from the region.

By Emil Sahakyan

SYUNIK PROVINCE, Armenia 17 April 2009 – Located 200 km from Armenia's capital, Yerevan, the village of Ishkhanasar in Syunik province represents a sad picture of rural poverty.

The village is now home to 250 people, most of whom are very poor and originally came to Armenia from Azerbaijan, fleeing the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh.

Dangerous conditions

The village school is located in an old Soviet-style building that once was an entertainment club for collective farmers and still carries the name of Lenin. It's no wonder that the school has only 40 students, as conditions inside are far from child-friendly.

On the contrary, the school is dangerous for children to attend. Falling walls and ceilings, no heating in the winter, inadequate sanitary facilities and the absence of minimum supplies all make it a dangerous place not only for children, but for teachers as well.

"I was teaching history to children when suddenly I heard a crack and immediately a big piece of wall fell down just several steps from me," said school Principal Ara Davtyan.

A big difference

Just a few kilometres away from Ishkhanasar, the situation is different. The school in nearby Shaki village has been renovated and is well maintained by students and teachers alike. It has about 200 students and is a centre of community life.

© UNICEF Armenia/2008
This school in the village of Ishkhanasar, Syunik province, represents a sad image of rural poverty in Armenia.

However, that was not the situation until 2007, when a pilot project on child-friendly schools was introduced in Syunik province by UNICEF, the Goris Teachers' Union and the non-governmental organization Kapan Teachers.

"When we first heard about this initiative, we were hesitating about our participation," said Deputy Principal Rima Sargsyan. "But it was worth taking a risk and participating in the project, as it helped us to identify our strong and weak points, and put us on the right track."

Meeting standards for 'child friendly'

The roots of the project were laid down in 2006, when the Ministry of Education and Sciences, with support from UNICEF, developed a Child-Friendly School Framework outlining requirements that a school has to meet in order to be called child-friendly.

Such schools foster an environment in which children are motivated and able to learn. Staff members are friendly and welcoming, and attend to students' health, emotional and safety needs. Child-friendly schools recognize and encourage children's growing capacities as learners by providing a culture that focuses on meeting the needs of each individual child.

In the course of the pilot project in Armenia, seven schools that managed to meet the requirements were nominated as 'child-friendly' and received special prizes.

"The project helped schools to become more organized and improve the quality of lessons, and served as an effective self-assessment tool and a means to mobilize communities around education and child rights issues," said UNICEF Education Officer Alvard Poghosyan.

Hopes for a small village

In 2008, UNICEF – in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science, NGO partners and local branches of the National Institute of Education – rolled out the child-friendly school project in Armenia's Shirak and Lori provinces. The partners started by raising child-friendly school awareness among school administrators, teachers, parents and children themselves.

As a result, around 80 per cent of schools in the provinces are now developing plans to introduce child-friendly school standards.

This year, UNICEF is planning to assess progress made so far in introducing the child-friendly school concept in Armenia. Following the assessment, an action plan identifying steps to scale up the concept in the country will be devised. Globally, UNICEF is rolling out the 'Child-Friendly School Manual', a practical guidebook, which will help countries design and implement child-friendly schools that are most appropriate to their circumstances.

Looking at his shabby classrooms, the principal of the Ishkhanasar village school said provincial authorities promised to start construction of a new school building in 2009 – raising the hope in this small village that one day its school, too, will be child-friendly.



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