Past few years Gulbenkian Foundation’s Armenian Communities Department has embarked on a major effort to help establish a much needed and long overdue teacher training program for Armenian Schools in Diaspora(s).
They have convened and participated in a few conferences in Yerevan, Istanbul, and Paris, about the preservation of the Western Armenian Language. Last summer between July 9 – and 17 they convened a conference attended by over 40 Armenian teachers, linguists, intellectuals, artists, etc. to help prepare a program for the re-evaluation and re-training of the Armenian school teachers.
Their intention is to re-train teachers with a new methodology rather than train and prepare new teachers. This summer they are planning to start a new teacher re-training program in cooperation with the Armenian Department of the INALCO University in Paris.
Judging from the communique of the Paris meeting and from an extensive interview with the Executive Director of the Armenian Communities Department, Mr. Razmig Panossian by Aztag Daily in Beirut Lebanon dated December 15, 2016, it seems that, they are on the right track. Their emphasis is more on the promotion of the usage of the Armenian Language and less on the preservation of it.
According to the communique (in the Armenian Language posted on the Gulbenkian website) in last summer’s meeting, they had seven focused groups each charged to come up with specific proposals. Here is a very abridged version of them loosely translated by me.
1 – Every summer convene a seminar for re-training Armenian School Teachers with a new methodology with the participation of students as well. Participating teachers will receive certificates from INALCO University. (Without knowing the details I think the participation of the students is an excellent idea).
2 – Prepare new teaching tools based on the current methodology for in-class and extracurricular activities.
3 – Convene leadership training program for principals and school administrators.
4 – Prepare online games for young children.
5 – Prepare a program where songs could be used to enhance language teaching.
6 – Publish reading books for young children of different ages translated from foreign languages.
7 – Establish a website and make it available worldwide.
Razmig Panossian in his lengthy interview with Aztag Daily stated that the revitalization of the Western Armenian should be Diaspora centered, and the key problem that needs to be addressed is the issue of transmission of the language to the young generation (instead of seeking linguistic perfection), and there is a need to start thinking of ways to separate language teaching from Armenian history and culture courses, so that language becomes a means to discover the world instead confined only to Armenian related subjects.
Razmig Panossian also stated that they are working on a much-needed Armenian spellcheck program that could be used by anyone interested.
There is much more in the communique and Razmig’s interview (both in the Armenian Language) than what I said. Much more. Every Armenian school administration in Diaspora(s) should study it and try to participate in it. So far I have not seen any better program on this crucial Diaspora-related subject.
The Armenian Communities Department of Gulbenkian Foundation since its inception has been a great help for Armenian Schools in Middle Eastern countries. In the past, they usually allocated lump sum funds to the school administrations to help them use them at their own discretion to overcome some of their budget deficits. It does not seem that this is the case anymore.
The current young leadership is more involved and result-oriented. They have the expertise and the money to make a difference in the Armenian Language Teaching System. (I loved what Ani Garmirian the coordinator of this program once said in one of her presentations).
She said we need more չ-ուսուչիչներ (non-teachers) implying the role of the teacher is more to help students learn, rather than rote teach them subjects that most of the time are outdated and not comprehended by the students. (I am a firm believer in the methodology to help students learn, rather than “boring” rigid instructional and rote teaching methods).
As I said earlier, every school administration in Diaspora (including ARS school in Toronto) should take advantage of this program, study it in detail, be part of it, and especially participate in the teacher training program together with the participation of the students whenever possible, and as soon as the program starts.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.