Mher Hovhannisyan: “Only through combined efforts will we be able to achieve results”

This year, the RA Ministry of Diaspora is continuing the “Diaspora” Summer School Program, in association with Yerevan State University. Hayern Aysor’s correspondent talked about the preparations, as well as the changes and innovations with Deputy Director of the Institute for Armenian Studies at Yerevan State University, candidate of historical sciences and newly appointed director of the “Diaspora” Summer School Program Mher Hovhannisyan.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Hovhannisyan, what new “air” will you try to convey to the program after assuming the office of director of the “Diaspora” Summer School Program?

Mher Hovhannisyan: The main purpose of Yerevan State University is to carry out this major program for preservation of the Armenian identity properly and with honor, in association with the RA Ministry of Diaspora.

The 2016 “Diaspora” Summer School Program will include five courses instead of the previous six. Those five courses are the Accelerated Armenian Language Courses, the Training Course for Armenian Language and History Teachers and Organizers of Education, the Course for Young Leaders and Community Activists, the Training Course for Journalists and the National Song and Dance Master Classes.

The Young Leaders Course and the Community Activists Course were held individually.

To raise the level of the program’s efficiency, we have combined those courses. This year, we plan on receiving nearly 285 participants.

I believe we can achieve results by combining our efforts. Of course, not only the lecturers and program organizers, but also our compatriots of the Diaspora play a huge role in this regard. We will not be able to achieve success without mutual understanding. The participants need to realize that they are being provided with a wonderful opportunity to undergo professional training in the Homeland that will help them gain new skills, return to their countries of residence and apply those skills for preservation of the Armenian identity and to provide the young generation with an education. So, we expect the participants to be involved and to be goal-oriented.

Hayern Aysor: Will there be any innovations in terms of organizing the courses?

M. H.: In terms of content, the five courses are divided into two parts, including educational and cultural-social.

Through education, we will aspire to organize the courses at a high level. We will transmit knowledge that the participants really need. Compared with the previous years, this year the innovation is that there will be as many professional subjects as possible. The non-professional subjects will be elective, meaning there will be mandatory and elective subjects.

There will be four elective subjects in each of the courses. Before arriving in Armenia, the participants will have the chance to choose two subjects of their preference from among the four elective subjects.

We are also working on providing the participants with the opportunity to continue their training after the summer school program as well. Yerevan State University has presented the Ministry of Diaspora with quarterly Armenological programs for distance learning. The goal is to further contribute to the learning process of our participants. Although the distance learning program will completely become a part of the program in 2017, we have already created the opportunity for Armenian history lessons that are not part of the program for those who would like to participate (see http://www.armin.am/am/herausucum).

As far as cultural events are concerned, this year we will also create the opportunity for the participants to take part in substantial and interesting events on their rest days. The courses will be followed by visits to historical and cultural sites, meetings with public, political and cultural figures and clergymen.

Overnight and other accommodations will be provided for Diaspora Armenians who state that they have not participated in the “Diaspora” Summer School Program in the past when registering for the program. The participants of previous years may also participate in the educational part of the program for free, but in this case, they will not be provided with overnight and other accommodations.

We will set encouraging prizes for the best participants of each course, who will be determined through a test to be conducted at the end of the program.

I must also add that, in order to maintain the quality of education provided through the summer school program, certificates will only be granted to those who complete the practical activity that they have selected and that is approved by the commission, as well as those who don’t have more than three absences during the course.

Hayern Aysor: During the February 10 session of the Coordinating Council for Pan-Armenian Forums of Journalists held at the RA Ministry of Diaspora, you said the main emphasis will be on the practical work. Could you provide details?

M. H.: You are right. We have added the practical work component and will be paying a lot of attention to that. We will be checking the participants’ skills and abilities and their knowledge through the practical activities.

Through the practical activities, we will determine the effectiveness of the courses, and the professional commissions will check the participants’ knowledge through tests. All the courses will be held at Yerevan State University.

Hayern Aysor: Will there be any other changes?

M. H.: Of course. This year, we will be applying the principle of volunteerism. What does that imply? When the Diaspora Armenians participating in the program, mainly the youth, visit Armenia in the summer, they can’t have meetings with their peers in the same educational format since most of the locals are on summer vacation.

Here is where our volunteers will extend a helping hand. All the groups of students in the higher levels will have three volunteers. They will not only participate in the courses and the exchanges of experiences, but will also serve as a bridge between the RA Ministry of Diaspora, Yerevan State University and the participants of the program. During the visits to historical and cultural sites, the volunteers will present the sites and will try to solve any issues that may arise.

I must also mention that the selected students will comply with the courses for the given subject to a certain extent from the professional perspective.

Hayern Aysor: I am aware that the official website of the “Diaspora” Summer School Program has already been launched at www.dss.am. How was the idea of creating such a website born?

M. H.: The creation of the website was one of the innovations that we had presented to the Ministry of Diaspora. I thought that this highly significant program needed to have its own ‘image’, which was strictly goal-oriented. The website was launched through the combined efforts of the employees of the Virtual Armenian Studies and Information Department of the Institute for Armenian Studies at Yerevan State University and didn’t require additional funding.

The main purpose of the multilingual website (Armenian, Russian, English) is to provide detailed information about the program to Diaspora Armenians wishing to participate.

The website are updated with news and press releases provided by the RA Ministry of Diaspora.

Applications are accepted electronically and can be filled out by entering the “Register” section located in the sub-site for each of the five courses listed in the website’s “School” section.

The deadline for submitting applications is May 31, 2016. The website provides the participants with the opportunity to upload their letters of recommendation in the application form and send them to the corresponding e-mail addresses after filling out the application in written form.

In the “Publications” section of the website, participants can refer to professional books, lectures, as well as didactic and methodological materials. The “Watch” section will include photos of the participants of previous years and videos devoted to the program. The website also has its YouTube and Facebook pages.

Hayern Aysor: Will there be training for new subjects?

M. H.: Yes, serious changes have been made. Taking into consideration the experience of the previous years and the demands and recommendations of the participants, the list of mandatory subjects will include subjects that will help the participants acquire professional skills and will provide new opportunities for requalification.

We have also attached importance to the fact that the participants will have the chance to apply their knowledge in the Homeland as well. The “Legal Issues” subject will serve that purpose so that Diaspora Armenians are aware of their rights and know the existing laws prior to their visit to Armenia.

Alongside the mandatory subjects, the participants will also take as many native studies courses as possible.

The professionals will mainly be the lecturers of Yerevan State University. We will also use the opportunities that modern information technologies have to offer.

The participants of the program will have the chance to become familiar with the material entitled “Higher Education in Armenia with the Example of YSU”. We will present the educational programs being carried out in Armenia, the reforms that have been implemented and the activities of operating schools, and YSU will be in the focus. The training for this subject is aimed at helping Diaspora Armenians wishing to continue their studies in Armenia be informed and make the right decision.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Hovhannisyan, the issue of training for Diaspora Armenian teachers conducted by the RA Ministries of Diaspora and Education and Science was a disputed issue. How was it solved?

M. H.: This year, we will also manage to combine the “Training for Armenian Language and History Teachers and Organizers of Education” course of the “Diaspora” Summer School Program of the RA Ministry of Diaspora and the Training for Diaspora Armenian Teachers Program of the RA Ministry of Education and Science.

Both ministries are also aware of the importance of the state program, which implies effective partnership in a constructive atmosphere created through combined efforts. These two programs will most likely be combined.

Interview by Gevorg Chichyan

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