Aram Pakhchanian, “Ayb is the unity flag of people thinking about education the same way.”
First of all, Ayb is about people who believe in Aybian ideas and their feasibility. The series created on the occasion of Ayb's 15th anniversary aims to reveal the individuals behind the Ayb idea, their path, and future plans. These people have invested their time, professional and financial resources in the implementation of the idea due to which today we have not only innovative educational projects but also a strong, well-established community standing by education.
Aram Pakhchanian is the co-founder of the Ayb Educational Foundation, Chair of the Board of Trustees.
He is the Vice President at ABBYY.
The talk with Aram Pakhchanian about education can be long, as our interviewee is an education enthusiast who both reads lectures at one of the famous universities and studies at another leading HEI. He is a person who never ceases learning, meanwhile discovering a new hobby each day.
If there weren’t collective responsibility that we took all together, there wouldn’t have been Ayb.
Like many people standing behind Ayb, I studied at PhysMath school in Yerevan, then at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, after which my life took an interesting turn. It was during that time when we were plunged into a global catastrophe called the collapse of the Soviet Union. This led to my coming back to Armenia, where I lived for two years, till 1993, and got married. I had my first child and then went to Moscow for a month. It just happened that I stayed in Moscow for more than 20 years. Every month I thought I would return to Armenia but it didn’t work and my arrival was constantly delayed. During that time, I became the vice president at ABBYY and to this day I have been serving in that position as a public figure. The most exciting time of my life started in 2006, when together with friends, we undertook an important commitment. Having analyzed the situation in the field of education in Armenia and having understood the existing crisis from which the country was unable to take steps for getting out, we founded Ayb. It started as a realization of a few people who understand that it is necessary to act instead of talking. Back then, we were also one of the few who realized the significance of acting in unity, not separately. Ayb, in fact, became the flag of unity that brought us together. And every time when a new like-minded person joins us and starts to believe in the same values, we get extremely inspired. I wouldn’t say I realized the significance of this job from the very beginning. I was young and in an age when you just start to think about the mission of your life. Yet I would like to say what worked in that case was the community. The community holds people inside. If there weren’t collective responsibility that we took all together, there wouldn’t have been Ayb. The second turning point was in 2014 when I came to Armenia and undertook the position of the school head which totally changed my life and profession. If I was an IT specialist before that, now I’m an education specialist. Currently I’m still a student and I’m studying at University College London. After graduation I’ll become a qualified specialist in the field of education. One of the Moscow universities offered me to manage a management and leadership program. During these years, Ayb has become so popular both in Armenia and beyond its borders that other members of Ayb and I are invited to discussions about education on different platforms as, according to many specialists, Ayb is one of the most important projects in the field of education in the post-Soviet territory.
The aim of Ayb was and is that every person living in Armenia have a vision of the future.
Together with the Ayb community, we have made initiatives in very different fields, but the interesting thing is that when investing in other fields we have again come to the idea that in all cases without quality education our every investment will be useless. No investment works if there isn’t education. Those investing in Armenia should understand that if the vast percentage of their investment doesn’t reflect in the enhancement of education, then their investment is absolutely useless. At best, it is a short-term way of making money. This is the reason why we have stayed in the field of education for so long and consistently. The achievement of Ayb's 15 years is people’s complete commitment to their job, and the greatest Ayb achievement is still in the future, precisely because people united around Ayb have clearly decided not to step back from this path. This is the guarantee of our future success. With its power in the field of education, Ayb will become an institution that will shape the thinking in education during the coming 15-20 years. I am convinced that we will almost completely stop working on the current projects; we will delegate current problems to support institutions and the field will become so rich that we will not be the only fighters. These institutions will do their jobs and we will become an institution taking care of more prospective programs. For instance, we will initiate a world-class university or be the initiator of a powerful chain of international schools, projects that will have an investment horizon of 20-30 years. I’m sure that we will form a habit of investing and believing in its future and prospects. We will shape the vision of our development and will have a great wish to serve the realization of that vision. Today as always, our main goal is that all people in Armenia have a vision for the future and realize that we are important for the world.
The state should delegate the long-term development plans to specialized institutions
Developing countries have a few horizons of activity—short-term, mid-term, long-term—and have to constantly balance their powers and focus based on the situation. During the fast-developing stage the long-term horizon ceases to be at the limelight of the country’s government, as all the potential focuses on the short-term and mid-term programs. When a country starts to develop more slowly, the volume of ongoing activities decreases and the long-term goals become priority. The developing countries usually don’t have a long-term development horizon, as from purely resource point of view the state doesn’t have an opportunity to engage with long-term plans. This means some institutions in these countries should assume that role and undertake the implementation of the long-term development of the fields. For instance, NASA is a government agency but is independent. It is an agency that receives state funding and implements long-term programs such as the project of reaching the Mars, which from the perspective of the U.S. current goals, is an absurd. Thus, when you separate specific institution from the government system and decide to take part only in its funding, you give the institution an opportunity to solve long-term problems. Now to hope that Armenia will ever have that kind of resources to establish such institutions relying on its own state budget, maybe is not very realistic and is also the peculiarity of a small country. So if we have a potential and people who believe in the development of our country in the long-term future, it will be right to separate people having this wish from the state and give them an opportunity to form their own agenda and follow it.
First of all, we must awaken people to the desire to change something; then that step should be followed by regulated processes.
The biggest challenge of our education is that it has a range of interrelated problems. In Armenia, unfortunately, education has been in a state of neglect for so many years. I’m not saying there have not been people in the public administration sector that have wanted to bring about changes. But as the care coming from the state has been disproportionate compared to the existing problems, those wishes haven’t worked. Look at Ayb’s example: our goal was to create with Armenian resources an exemplary school in Armenia that would have an international recognition. Our step was aimed at awakening people to the realization that it is possible. Our goal was aimed at awakening people who would find the power of acting and healing the system. We must have long-term programs for educational activities and fight against the inertia of the system. Meanwhile, it is relieving that the right steps produce quick results. In 2006, when Ayb emerged in Armenia, the perception of education and standards were completely different, but now many are trying to be like Ayb and reach its level as there is already a clear, formulated example—a living example, not an abstract one. That means all changes should be organic and most importantly they should be based on human desires. First of all, we must awaken people to the desire to change something, then this step should be followed by regulated processes. Laws and new standards should be set under these changes, but the beginning of all changes is people's enthusiasm.
A human being has innate passion for getting education and needs correctly guiding teachers.
I’ve seen a lot of examples when a person was able to achieve great success because of the great love toward education. I admire, for example, Fr. Mesrop (interviewer: creator of the Ayb idea, Ayb’s co-founder, physicist, Father Mesrop Aramian), a person who grew up in the Third Part (interviewer: the colloquial name of a neighborhood in Yerevan), where he had to constantly struggle. Nevertheless, he could succeed in the field of theoretical physics, then also became a priest. Ask him what drove him to this success. This is certainly Bach’s music, family, and teachers he communicated with. To succeed in education, the combination of all these aspects, but most importantly, the right influence and properly organized propaganda of education are necessary. In this process, not only the role of the country but also the role of individuals is important. I’m convinced that a human being has innate passion for getting education and needs correct guidance. Here, the role of the teacher is very important. Being a teacher is a mission. In our perception, there isn’t the image of a teacher who we would like and should respect. We cannot respect a bad teacher. A bad teacher kills the student’s desire to learn, and the student doesn’t respect that teacher one way or another. It is necessary to shape respect toward the image of a teacher, but first of all we need to change this image. This image is distorted and not only teachers are to blame but also the conditions in which the state has put them. I think that the process has already started. However, teachers must take an active part in reorganizing their image. There is an active community of teachers who infect one another with their enthusiasm and, in my opinion, this community is very strong. The signals of enthusiasm should be infectious for others. These signals also reach our government and they start to reconsider the role of these specialists. If we want the parliament to present a bill that raises teachers’ salaries, the activities of the teachers' community must be directed to that process.
We must work together to increase the overall expectations from the education system
The closest foreign educational model for us is the model of Singapore, which is also a small country. They have chosen a very unique approach. They have done everything under laboratory conditions and received a huge state funding. Singapore has developed education and economy together, in consecutive phases. It has developed some branches of economy and, in the meantime, in order to fill the created gaps, it developed education. So different public and private sector institutions have engaged in the process of preparing necessary specialists. As the growth in the country has been rapid, people have naturally followed these processes. In fact, Singapore has provided the flow which has made people enter these processes. We should be able to provide this too. A group of people should initiate the process and others should automatically follow it. For instance, if you have several good schools in the country, then a few dozen, afterwards hundreds of good schools, not only the average quality of education increases, but also overall expectations from the education system. This is the way through which education develops in the country. Ayb tried to do this through the Araratian Baccalaureate program, by starting with high schools then trying to spread it to the whole general education. At first we concentrated on high schools as it is a manageable load, and then in the future it should have spread to all the secondary schools. However, the funds allocated to this project were first reduced about five times, then the project became a target for attacks. Finally, without any substantiations it wasn’t realized. The main reason is that the state doesn’t attach importance to the field of education.
The principal of the school should be not only the principal of students but also the principal of parents
A successful school isn’t a school for children, it is a school for families. When a child goes to school, parents go to school as well. If you have noticed, e.g. in the Russian culture, people say “We went to school” which is really true and is the reason why schools work a bit better than in Armenia regardless of the fact that average level of teachers and the way of thinking is the same. It is so because mothers and fathers go to school with their children. It is very important for people to understand the responsibility: if a child goes to school and is already a student, then a parent should also change and realize what it means to be a mother or a father of a child who goes to school. The principal of the school should be not only the principal of students but also the principal of parents. You can’t give children education by only communicating with them. You should communicate with families, and your ideas as a principal should concern not only teachers but also children and parents. The schools whose principals are also principals of families succeed, as to influence only children is not enough. It is also necessary to educate parents.
On the occasion of Ayb's 15th anniversary, I wish infinite dreams
The most important thing is that there are always dreams in Ayb so that by coming here we understand that we’re realizing our dreams. There is nothing more important than this. The feeling that you serve a real mission that is not fairy or imaginary and is based on genuine belief and real values is priceless. I would like people looking at us to see we are not scared of anything, we are everywhere and sustainable and we continue to be a guideline for development and a source of truth. Ayb, in my opinion, is more than an educational foundation. We educate the public at large. Ayb is a storage where the treasures and values of our society are stored and we as soldiers stand in the defense of these values. Woe to the day we start to lose these values. We should be very honest to ourselves, otherwise we’ll lose them. Values are defended when there is a mutual trust: I want us to cherish this trust.
Aram Pakhchanian's hobbies and interests: soon you’ll be able to board a plane flown by Aram
I have a lot of interests and it is my problem, as most often I can’t make everything on time. I like very different genres of good music and I have a large collection of discs and vinyl. I also like to listen to music on good devices. The only branch of art that I’m not into is feature film. For me, this branch of art is manipulative and has exhausted itself. Film is a kind of mass art, and I find it difficult to understand any mass art. For the same reason I don’t like pop music. My other hobby is woodworking. I like working with wood, and I have a lot of tools in the workshop. I’ve recently decided to become a pilot and soon I’ll attend a flying course. The next field that I’ve liked since my childhood is radioelectronics and radio communications. I make different devices in my free time. I’ve always been interested in psychology at amateur level, and the human with psychological capacities in general. My passion for sport is mainly alpine skiing which I’ve been practicing for so long. I used to play tennis, but I quit it because I don’t like defeating people. For me it is more pleasant to lose so that the opponent wouldn’t get hurt. Recently, I’ve also started to practice martial arts as I want to be physically and psychologically fit for every kind of fight. Especially during the last war, I’ve come to realize that I’m useless enough as a soldier as I don’t have physical and military fitness. So as the next war will start sooner or later, I’ve decided that I should be more ready. I also do yoga that contributes to living in harmony with myself. My “tasty” hobby is coffee. I’ve constructed a device (that is also a result of my interest in electronics) with the help of which I can roast coffee in the amount and mode I want.