While blogs undoubtedly came of age during the recent post-election state of emergency when the traditional media was effectively muzzled for 20 days, that is not to say that politics is the main focus of every blog. Indeed, it might even be argued that such blogs do little more than duplicate the same kind of polarized views voiced by a myriad of politically partisan newspapers.
Instead, now that post-election tensions are dying down in Armenia, there is a huge potential for blogs to cover more specific issues which are either ignored or left undiscussed by the media and society in general. One of those subjects is education, an area which is particularly tainted by corruption in the post-Soviet space.
According to Transitions Online's education blog, Chalkboard, Armenia is no exception when it comes to the slow pace of reform.
While authorities tout Bologna reforms as creating a modern, competitive education system in Armenia, many feel that the transition is only exacerbating existing problems. In spite of the Ministry of Education’s lofty plans, Armenian schools continue to grapple with a critical shortage of resources and qualified teachers, especially in rural areas, due to persistent low public spending on education – only 3.2 percent of GDP according to the most recent figures from the World Bank.
Education has also become the focus of other specialist blogs dealing with Armenia and the South Caucasus. The Armenian Economist, for example, is critical of government plans to fund students to study abroad. The blog argues that the money would be better spent on improving the education system at home.
The prime minister recently announced that the government will fund the education of a number of students in foreign countries. Undoubtedly this is a confirmation of the country’s dramatic need for capacity building, as well as a reflection of the slow progress in advancing the state of graduate education in the country.
[…] The limited resources should instead be employed in attracting educators to the country. Here, a much larger pool of students would get training. More importantly, current faculty would also get training, and upgrade their academic skills.
At the end of the day, it is the academic institutions in the country that need to be shored up. Otherwise, capacity building will continue to be a long slow process.
Armenia Higher Education & Sciences, a blog by lecturer and consultant Aryana Petrova, is also unhappy with the government's policies. Already wondering if the new Minister of Education and Sciences will be able to “implement long overdue reforms […] [in] one of the most inefficient and ineffective state administrations,” Petrova laments the conditions in which scientists have to work.
We are occasionally told that if Armenia’s neighbors have abundant natural resources, Armenia is lucky to have its people. […]
The problem with intellectual potential or capital is that, unlike other resources, it is extremely mobile and if it is not protected, supported and nurtured, it can easily relocate. There are countries that seek foreign talent to boost their own economy in detriment of those that experience loss of talent or so-called brain drain.
Armenia is in the latter situation; it is currently subject to brain drain. […]
It is true that the migration has sharply declined in recent years but it has not stopped. The country’s research and innovation capacity shrinks year after year, and this will certainly continue as long as serious measures in favor of the country’s education and research are not taken.
Meanwhile, Social Science in the Caucasus examines Armenia's standing in the international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). However, the blog wonders if the scores reported accurately reflect the real situation and uses its blog to solicit responses and further research on the matter.
Some alternative studies conducted in Armenia suggest that TIMSS sample may not be representative of the overall population. If we understand the argument correctly, the authors of this study argue that students included in the sample in Armenia are from middle-upper classes. Effectively this could mean that the poorest remain underrepresented. This may be an interesting topic for research (any potential fellows out there?).
Assuming that subjects such as education continue to be covered, specialist blogs such as these might well prove excellent mediums through which to discuss the issues at hand. They might also prove instrumental in providing transparency in the arduous task of reforming a corrupt and inefficient educational system in countries such as Armenia.
In 2006, for example, international students at Yerevan State Medical University (YSMU) set up their own blog following demonstrations staged after the controversial death of an Indian course mate. Although it has since been deleted, the precedent for blogs to empower students and push for accountability in the education system was set.