8 March 2018
On April 6, AGBU London held a successful public meeting at the London Holiday Inn Kensington. The topic was on the challenges Armenia faces in integrating students with disabilities into the Armenian educational system. The main speakers were Dr. Rhodes Murphy, the Provost of the American University of Armenia (AUA), and Dr. Benjamin Barnard of the British mental health charity (MIND). The evening meeting was opened by Armine Afrikian of AGBU London.
The London audience included professionals in public health, social work, and higher education. The speakers covered a range of key issues with rich audio-visual materials and ended with a probing and serious discussion. One of the key points of discussion was made by Dr. Rhodes, who stated that (a staggering) 20% of all children in Armenia do not go to school because of their disabilities, the social stigma associated with their condition, physical barriers to attend school, a lack of social infrastructure and other factors. The 20% figure does not include those children who go to school with mental health issues that are simply ignored. Mental health is not something that is discussed seriously in Armenia. For example, when the AUA introduced a student counselling service a few years ago, they were surprised by the large number of students who used the service. He also added that the academic achievement of these students improved because of the counselling so that the university is expanding this service.
The Armenian government has committed itself to international and European Union standards to allow all disabled people access to education by 2025. Needless to say, this commitment is a difficult one, especially because of the lack of funding, but both speakers commended the dedication of Armenian health professionals, as well as the work of NGOs (most notably “Bridge of Hope”), and some foreign institutions.
The American University of Armenia remains at the forefront of working with Armenian authorities in developing educational strategies, as well as implementing programmes that will allow the training of teachers and health professionals, and make education accessible to all. Dr. Rhodes is currently in London on an ERASMUS programme related to these issues. AGBU is a major supporter of the AUA.