During and after the war: where and how did Karabakh schoolchildren study
The second Karabakh war suspended studies for 30,000 Karabakh schoolchildren.
According to official data, about 90,000 Karabakh residents were forced to leave their homes during the hostilities; since the truce, about 45,000 people have returned home. More than 30,000 will not be able to return, since their homes are located on territories that are now under the control of Azerbaijan.
Overall, 58% of students and 72% of teachers returned to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Below: how the problems of schoolchildren were solved during the days of hostilities, what is being done now so that children can continue their studies.
Shushanik Papazyan came to one of the temporary shelters for Karabakh residents in Yerevan in early October, when the war had just begun. The 20-year-old journalist had no idea what she could do for the people who settled here.
“At first I thought I would be useful as a psychologist, because I took special courses. It was obvious that everyone here needed psychological support. People did not speak at all, not even to each other. One of the volunteers came to the shelter on a motorcycle. And every time he turned the ignition, the children just jumped up in horror.
More volunteers came here, and together we began to figure out what and how to organize for children: songs, dances, drawing, reading books. We tried our best to dispel their thoughts of war.”
The volunteers soon realized that entertainment alone was not enough. The war seemed endless, and they set about teaching the children. Five of them started helping them do their homework after school.
Classes at the shelter
At first, classes for all students were held in one room.
“Of course it was very inconvenient. But one volunteer worked with each child, and we knew that they were leaving this room ready for the next day’s lessons. And we constantly contacted their school teachers, because we ourselves often had questions – after all, none of us are really teachers,” Shushanik says.
Then they managed to divide the students into age groups – four in each, so that the lessons were more effective for all 23. For this, the orphanage had equipped classrooms.
Shushanik says that the hardest thing for her was going to her charges on November 10, after the signing of the trilateral ceasefire agreement in Karabakh.
“In the morning I was worried, how will I enter the classroom, what will I say to these children? Some of them no longer even have a home and have nowhere else to return. I thought about how to talk to them about the lessons now.
But when I entered the classroom, everything had changed. My students sat in silence, with swollen and red eyes, but with open books and notebooks. And I realized that I have no right to be weak, because these children who have lost their homes, whose fathers and brothers are wounded or missing, whose families have lost so much, came to study.”
Children who moved to Armenia from Karabakh were offered to continue the educational process from the very first days of the war, says Zhanna Andreasyan, Deputy Minister of Education:
“They were given the opportunity to go to the school closest to their place of residence, register and attend classes. This did not require any documents. Moreover, the ministry did not take into account the availability of places in schools.
All children assigned to schools received the necessary textbooks and, if necessary, other school supplies. In general, more than half of the children who arrived from Artsakh during the war had the opportunity to study in schools in Armenia.
And now the process of their schooling continues. Moreover, all primary school students in Armenia now go to school, all the rest are taught remotely.
However, according to rough estimates, more than 2,000 of the children who moved to Armenia need technical support for online learning. The state, in cooperation with charitable and international organizations, is trying to provide them with the necessary equipment.
The deputy minister says there were two main reasons for the refusal of Karabakh children to go to local schools. Unlike Armenia, where 12-year education is compulsory, 9-year education is compulsory in NK. That is, students may not go to school after grade 9 if they do not want to continue their studies. The second reason is that people did not expect the war to be so long.
“Now more than half of the schoolchildren have returned to Artsakh. This trend continues. We are in constant contact with our colleagues in Artsakh – both in terms of technical assistance and information support, since the personal files of children attending schools in settlements that are already under the control of Azerbaijan can no longer be restored.
In addition, there is currently no way in NK to organize the final exams scheduled for December. And for those who intend to pass them, we organize exams in Armenia, since the loss of this opportunity for high school students can be fateful,” says Zhanna Andreasyan.
She ays that the opportunity to receive an education in Armenia will be provided as long as at least one child from Karabakh needs it.
Information from Nagorno-Karabakh
The war violated the right to education of more than 30,000 Karabakh residents, says NK Minister of Education, Science and Culture Lusine Karakhanyan:
“We are talking about 23,967 schoolchildren, more than 4,000 preschoolers and about 5,000 students. The buildings of more than 80 schools and kindergartens were completely or partially destroyed. There are also educational institutions that remained in the settlements that came under the control of Azerbaijan.”
According to Karakhanyan, the NK government is doing everything possible so that children can return to school. And some have already started working in Stepanakert. The minister assures that no child will be left without an education – difficult times have come, but solutions will be found.
In some cases, students will be referred to other schools in the neighborhood where they can provide acceptable learning environments.
Despite the coronavirus epidemic, there is currently no distance learning opportunity in NK. After the war, the infrastructure was damaged, there is no Internet, and electricity is often cut off.
“All this makes it very difficult to organize online education. We will try to maintain social distance and other rules, but the lessons will be held in person. Three schools in Stepanakert are already accepting students. With some reservations, the educational process began in rural schools, which were not affected. We have no right to be defeated in the field of education,” says Lusine Karakhanyan.
The class where Shushanik taught is gradually emptying. 16 out of 23 schoolchildren have already returned to Karabakh. Families from Hadrut and Shushi will remain in the shelter for now, who have nowhere to return.
For each of the children leaving home, Shushanik prepares portfolios with books and notebooks, pencil cases and notebooks, in which he asks to write about his dreams.