Archive photo: Schoolchildren in Yerevan participate in the annual Hour of Code event designed to introduce them to computer programming

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — In a move aimed at supporting continued rapid growth of Armenia’s information technology (IT) sector, the Armenian government has decided to help double the number of engineering labs in public schools across the country.

The Education Ministry announced on Monday that the government has allocated 834 million drams ($1.7 million) in additional funding to the Yerevan-based Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises (UATE) for that purpose. It said the private association will use the money to open 284 more such labs before the end of this year.

The UATE began organizing extracurricular robotics and computer programming courses for schoolchildren in 2008 in an effort to alleviate a shortage of skilled personnel widely seen as the main challenge facing the Armenian IT industry. More than 7,500 students currently study at its 284 Armath labs equipped with computers, robot parts and 3D printers.

IT instructors running most of these labs are paid by the government. The UATE pays the wages of their colleagues working in the other schools.

According to the Education Ministry, the UATE will receive almost 1.2 billion drams in total government funding this year, sharply up from 180 million drams allocated to it in 2018.

“As a result, nearly half of Armenia’s schools will have Armath engineering labs by the end of 2019,” read a statement released by the ministry. This will include virtually all schools located in the country’s northern Shirak, Lori and Tavush provinces, it said.

IT is the fastest growing sector of Armenia’s economy, having expanded by over 20 percent annually in the past decade. It employs more than 15,000 engineers and generates over 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

Industry executives and analysts say the sector would have grown even faster had the quality of education at IT departments of Armenian universities been adequate. According to the UATE, many of the children taking Armath courses will be skilled enough to work for tech firms right after finishing school.

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