Teaching the Armenian language to our young generation has been mainly through the Armenian schools, that includes, the all day schools “Ամէնօրեա վարժարան”, Saturday Schools, Sunday Schools, etc. So far we have failed to utilize the internet that could be wide ranging, and reach much larger audiences. But for that later.
Needless to say that all day schools are very expensive and worst yet, the hard working school trusties, principals, and young parents, spend most of their valuable time for the fund raising activities, and the administration of the schools, and hardly any time dedicated to improve the much needed quality of the Armenian teaching programs, the “raison d’etre” of the school. (For the easing of the financial burden of the USA Armenian Schools, I recommend to any one interested, to read a wonderful article by Dr. Hosep Torossian titled “Chartered Territory; An option for Armenian schools in America”. Available by Google search.)
Since the Middle Eastern countries (the hub of the all day Armenian schools) passed laws to make their Arabic educational programs mandatory for the Armenian all day schools, the mission of the Armenian schools changed from that of, an Armenian schools teaching also Arabic as a second language, to that of, an Arabic schools teaching also Armenian as a second language. But we did not reprogrammed our Armenian curriculum to the new reality. That was over sixty years ago and no need to dwell on the past.
The North American Armenian all day schools, (a replica of Middle Eastern Armenian Schools) is no different. Middle Eastern Armenian Schools had a HUGE advantage that of an Armenian speaking community that due to some social and religious issues, congregated more with each other, and thus helped the usage of the Armenian language as a main communication means between Armenians. We do not have that “luxury”, and need even more urgent need to develop different methods and programs.
In Toronto there are many programs that maybe be we could look in to improve our programs. The English as Second Language (ESL) could be one, and the other, the French Immersion Program. I have brought this issue to the attention of ARS Day School Educational Board’s “Կրթական մարմին” attention, and no need to delve in it. Maybe I should mention only that, the French Immersion program is for children of the parents who do NOT speak French at home, and till the grade four the whole curriculum is in French. (Let us not forget that this is in English speaking Toronto.)
The limited time that we have to teach the Armenian program must be focused on teaching the Armenian LANGUAGE and allocating most of that time to the conversational part of it, and less on grammar, and “Մասամբ նորին”, specially from nursery to grade four. All subjects like history, literature etc. could be gradually introduced after grade four.
The objective must be that, by grade four, the student will be fluent in Armenian Language, and by grade 6 the student will be fully aware of his or her Armenia heritage and identify with, and thus no more the need for Armenian High School in North America. It is time for local High school, then University, and then to conquer the real world. (If we can not teach the Armenian language and heritage within the most adaptive early 10 years, we should not be in the business of teaching Armenian language and waste our time and financial resources.) Now let us look at the use of the internet for teaching the Armenian language.
Apart from the private initiatives to promote Armenian identity through Armenian music, dances etc. for the Armenian children on internet, it seems that, among all the old Armenian organizations in Diaspora, AGBU is the only Armenian organization to utilize the internet to teach the Armenian language.
AGBU have launched two successful programs. The “Armenian Virtual College”, (AVC) an excellent program for those who really need to learn the Armenian language, and have the time to do so, and the “Gus on the Go” for those young parents and their young children to learn some conversational Armenian together and have fun too. What seems to be lacking is the extensive promotion of these programs specially the “Gus on the Go” that has the largest “market” in English speaking Diasporas.
The “market” that I am talking about is the young Armenian families with one or two young children and both parents working. They have to keep up with a busy lifestyle that is the norm for the busy middle class young Canadian and USA families. The limited spare time that they have, they spend it with their children’s social development needs in accordance of the local culture. In that limited time that they have, they must also allocate time for learning the Armenian Language. Here is where programs like “Gus on the Go” is the best way specially for the preschoolers and their parents to learn together and have fun too.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian