The Soviet education system was successful in producing a well-educated population, and a literacy rate of 100% was reported as early as 1960. In the Soviet period, Armenian education followed the standard Soviet programme with control from Moscow of curricula and teaching methods. After independence Armenia made changes. Curricula were altered to emphasise Armenian history and culture while Armenian became the dominant language of instruction. Russian is still widely taught now as a second language but the former compulsory clutter -subjects such as History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism, Foundations of Marxist-Leninist Aesthetics, and Foundations of Scientific Communism - was rapidly jettisoned.
Children formerly started ten years of compulsory education at the age of seven, but after independence the starting age was changed to six and is now five, giving 12 years of compulsory education. The school year normally begins on 1 September as in most parts of the former Soviet Union children in all classes can be seen making their way to school immaculately dressed and clutching bunches of flowers for their class teacher. University courses last five years or more, four years for a basic Bachelor's degree and typically another two years for a Master's. Education has suffered from lack of funding since independence and the low salaries paid to teachers have discouraged young people from entering the profession. A particular difficulty at present is the gap which has developed between what children have learned during their ten or 11 years, on which they are examined on leaving school, and what they are required to know to pass the universities' entrance exams. The only way to bridge this gap is to pay for extra tuition and so important is their children's education to parents that almost all are willing to pay for it. It is hoped that the extension of schooling to 12 years will remove the gap in knowledge.
So highly is education regarded that Yerevan's 12 state universities have, despite the falling population, been augmented by 25 private ones since independence. Armenians who do not seek a university education are very much in a minority despite recent figures showing that only 20% of university graduates find jobs after graduation. The ministry is keen to reduce the number of graduates and to increase the extent of vocational training as there are significant shortages of trained specialists such as hairdressers and construction workers. The most highly regarded degrees and diplomas are those from the state institutions, and especially those from students who scored so well in the entrance examination that they gained a free place.
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