Recently, the Araratian Baccalaureate (AB) education program developed by the Ayb Educational Foundation was recognized as comparable to such international education programs, as the UK GCE A Level and the US Advanced Placement.
Mediamax talked to David Sahakyan, the Executive Director of the Ayb Educational Foundation, to find out what benefits that equivalence gives to Armenia, who the program is designed for, which schools can offer it, and how affordable the program will be for the different segments of society.
- Mr. Sahakyan, how did you initiate the program and for what purpose?
- It all started 10 years ago with the establishment of the Ayb Educational Foundation, whose mission was to shape a new generation - educated and virtuous, with a clear vision for the future and taking ownership for our country. We realized that this goal could be achieved through education, particularly through general education, because it is at the school that the individual is shaped.
Of course, we could take any of the internationally accepted education systems such as the International Baccalaureate or the Advanced Placement, join one of them, and have a program that would be recognized in the world and would be appealing to the parents.
However, that was unacceptable for us because such a program would not provide national education, would not meet the state order to shape a citizen and would not focus on the Armenian history, language, and identity.
That is why we opted for a bit different, more "crazy" way. We decided to create an Armenian-language education brand, which would be based on national values, along with being internationally recognizable. Through this program, our children who have the ability and aspiration to get good education will have the chance to conquer top educational heights, doing that in the national value system, in their own country. This is the important aspect of the Araratian Baccalaureate.
Aiming to make the Araratian Baccalaureate an educational platform available for all children in Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora, we launched the National Program for Educational Excellence (NPEE) in 2014, under which the AB was revised and finalized and we started to train teachers who would be able to teach that program.
- What is the difference between the Araratian Baccalaureate program and the current state program for general education in Armenia?
- The first difference is that the Araratian Baccalaureate is an excellence program – it sets high educational standards. The state program for general education is for everyone, thus it has to ensure a satisfactory level. Whereas in the case of the Araratian Baccalaureate we have raised the bar, making the program a pathway for those children who aspire for serious educational goals. That is why it is hard to get admitted to an AB school, study and graduate.
Second, the program pays special attention to the development of skills, in particular, subject, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, including problem-solving skills, creativity, etc.
These are the main differences, but if we look deeper, there are several other differences with regard to the entire learning process, admission, organization of the teaching process, and final examinations.
The students of the Araratian Baccalaureate are selected not only based on their knowledge, but also by their value system (examinations are followed by a mandatory interview). The final exams of the Araratian Baccalaureate are not a test of child’s knowledge at that moment, but rather the extent to which the child has mastered the education program. Therefore, the exams do not last 1-3 hours, but rather are distributed within 4 days for 8 hours, and include not only theoretical part but also practical activities.
- The Araratian Baccalaureate was first recognized as an alternative education program in Armenia and then, also, equivalent to international leading programs. Does the recognition as an alternative education program mean that any school in Armenia can become AB school?
- At the end of December 2015, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia recognized the AB as an alternative education program, which can be rolled out to high schools of Armenia and Artsakh. It is planned to have at least one high school in each marz, which will fully operate on the AB program. In the future, it is planned to introduce the AB in other high schools in Armenia and Artsakh as a stream.
In the coming months, we will announce the conditions for joining the AB system so that the schools that want to join this program learn how they can apply, and what is needed to become an AB system school.
That process will be open to all schools, but we must understand that only desire is not enough. AB standards are very strict, and we will select schools to move forward together and who will be ready for changes to meet those standards and become a school of new quality.
- What does the equivalence of the AB to UK GCE A Level and the US Advanced Placement give to the student?
- First, the extensive work on the equivalence has been carried out by one of the globally most reputable institutions for certification and recognition – the National Academic Recognition Information Centre (UK NARIC).
This equivalence enables Armenia to appear on the global education arena, as a state whose education quality is acceptable. For the children, it means that they will not have to take international examinations again to prove their knowledge and skills. Hereinafter, they will compete on equal terms with the students of the GCE A Level and Advanced Placement to study at the best higher education institutions in the world.
The program also provides credits. For instance, if the student has been admitted to the University of Toronto and prior to it has studied Biology at the school and taken the respective exams, then he/she can skip that course at the university.
- What is the role of the Cambridge International Examinations in the implementation of the Araratian Baccalaureate program?
- The Araratian Baccalaureate program was created at Ayb, and we wanted to understand the extent to which it was acceptable and compliant with the expectations of the international education community. There was a necessity for benchmarking, and for this reason, we started cooperation with the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) at University of Cambridge, to identify our strengths and weaknesses and areas for development. And today our certificates bear the logo of Cambridge, which is a unique phenomenon in the global practice. It is unique in the way that the University of Cambridge allows to use its name and logo only in the case when a school or a system does everything exactly as Cambridge dictates. In our case, the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) acts as an observer, but has granted the right to use its name and logo on our certificates, confirming that the examinations that are conducted in Armenian and in Armenia are equivalent to the GCE A Level. This demonstrates the trust of Cambridge towards us.
- How is the international recognition of the program taking place?
- We must understand that the international recognition is not an automatic process. When we say international recognition, it does not mean that everyone immediately learned about us or instantly started expecting our students with the AB diploma. It is a process, which in some cases is passed with the state and in some cases – with the university. However, in the global education arena, there are organizations that dictate opinion and whose opinion is decisive – if these organizations do recognize, then recognition by others becomes a nearly automatic action. It is a matter of time - sometimes, it could take years. Nevertheless, already this year, the certificates of the Araratian Baccalaureate have been crucial for the students having taken the exams, some of which have been admitted to such universities as the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Catholic University of Leuven, and so on.
- Does the AB program contain a threat of “emigration” of smart kids?
- There are several ways for keeping children in the country, for example, the Soviet Union had closed the border. The second option is that we provide such poor education that the children do not have any opportunity to go abroad – however, this is of no use and will hardly contribute to the development of our country. This means that we should not be afraid that our students will be admitted to the best universities in the world and will excel, but rather we should try to manage that process for the benefit of Armenia.
Children should voluntarily choose their country and place of living - and it comes from the values and upbringing that they have received, and from the responsibility that has been formed towards their motherland.
Generally, three factors account for people’s decision on the place of residence: security, health, and education. Through the AB program, we improve the education component. Today, we offer an alternative for high-quality education to all Armenian parents, both in Armenia and abroad. We are telling them that their child can receive education in Armenia – at home and in a safe environment, yet get international-quality education, which would be much cheaper and affordable. And today we have the example of families in the context of the Ayb School, which have moved to Armenia from such countries as the United States, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Russia, England, and so on.
In this regard, we strongly believe that what we do contributes to the growth of the number of people who have responsibility toward Armenia. Yes, they will go and study in foreign universities; yes, they will go to the best global centers, where the future of the world is determined – it is a network. However, we are also convinced that they will use this network for the benefit of their country.
Today, thanks to the National Program for Educational Excellence we have more than ten specialists who have returned to Armenia or have reversed their decision to leave Armenia as through the program they have found the way to their professional realization.
- What is the role of Ayb School in the Araratian Baccalaureate program?
- Ayb School is the “laboratory,” where all this has been created and tested for over five years. If it were not for the Ayb School, it is unlikely that we would now have the National Program for Educational Excellence and the Araratian Baccalaureate in place.
- Is it already known which will be the next school where the Araratian Baccalaureate program will be introduced?
- We will select partners who will be ready to pass the path of becoming a member of the AB system with us. This means that schools should make that decision on their own, and we will help them to open their doors to their first Araratian Baccalaureate students, in the near future. The number of these schools will increase over time, and simultaneously the number of children receiving this education will rise.
We expect that the students of the next school in the Araratian Baccalaureate system will go to school on September 1, 2018. This means that the selection of the schools needs to be done by the first half of 2017 in order to go with them throughout the entire preparatory process.
- The Araratian Baccalaureate is often associated with Ayb School, and a question arises on how affordable the education will be at the AB schools.
- First, Ayb High School is a social program, and if in the case of the public schools it is the state or us, the taxpayers, who pay, in the case of Ayb High School, the donors pay on behalf of the parents who cannot afford paying for the education of their children. Today, about 60 percent of the children at Ayb High School study on scholarship.
As for all those schools that will operate under the AB program, they will be state schools, and like all other state schools, will be free.
- Could the AB be introduced in the Armenian Diaspora schools and become a means that could help solve the problem of the Diaspora schools of becoming non-competitive?
- We have repeatedly said that the Araratian Baccalaureate program will be applied not only in Armenia but also abroad. In Diaspora, very often parents are faced with the choice whether to send children to an Armenian school, trying to address the issue of preserving the national identity, or to the best local school, creating wider future opportunities for the child. The Araratian Baccalaureate eliminates this dilemma. Thus, the Araratian Baccalaureate will provide opportunities for the students to study an Armenian-language program, in an Armenian environment, yet get high-quality education in line with international standards. So, yes, according to our plans, the Araratian Baccalaureate will enter Armenian schools in the Diaspora.
Ara Tadevosyan talked to David Sahakyan