How a Free Education Program in Armenia Is Turbocharging Creative Industries

Class at the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo credit: ADB.

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An after-school program for teens that develops technical competence in 21st-century skills is being replicated across the country and beyond.


A nonprofit institution in Armenia started an after-school program for teens in 2011 to support skills development in creative industries and technology.

From its first center in Yerevan, the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies has expanded to three more locations in the country and eight international locations. It has now more than 60,000 alumni. More than 25,000 students participate in the learning program each week.

There are no entrance exams, requirements, or fees. All students are accepted free of charge on a rolling basis.

A solution called “TUMO in a Box” is expected to increase the number of participants in urban and rural settings through a hub and spoke model. There are currently 20 TUMO Boxes deployed across Armenia, and four are planned for Lyon in the coming year.

What is TUMO?

TUMO's mission is to allow teens to maximize their potential by discovering their passions and building the skills and self-confidence required to shape the future. It offers supplemental education to those between the ages of 12 and 18.

The TUMO program takes a hyper-personalized approach to learning where students select the skills that are most interesting to them and create personal learning paths, which are dynamically updated as the learner’s abilities and interests evolve, resources become available, and content is updated. It is made up of self-learning activities, workshops, and project labs that cover more than 20 focus areas, including computer programming, animation, decarbonization, game development, sustainable cities, music, robotics, 3D modeling, green consumption, writing, filmmaking, and graphic design.

The learning experience is built around a proprietary learning management software, the “TUMO Path,” and staff monitor and support students based on real-time data collected through the software. No two learning paths are alike, and their practically unlimited combinations reflect the fine-grained diversity of the learning community.

Participants in the program come to the center twice each week to master a subset of the 20 skill areas offered at TUMO at their own pace. A typical student will attend TUMO for 2 years and complete all three levels of their six selected skill areas.

There are no grades or certificates of completion. Students are rather motivated to gain access to their favorite workshops and labs, and to level up, as they would in a video game. They can upload their favorite works to their online portfolio, which becomes their living diploma, accessible even after leaving TUMO.

Beyond developing technical competence in 21st-century skills, the program also emphasizes the following soft skills: teamwork, initiative-taking and self-confidence, empathy, effective communication, creativity, and time management.

How is the program funded? What makes its operation sustainable?

TUMO Yerevan was started by a generous donation by Sam Simonian, co-founder of the telecommunications company Inet, and his wife Sylva, which financed a six-story building. This is the largest TUMO Center in the world and houses the organization’s headquarters. It uses only the first two floors and rents out the other floors to technology companies. The rental income supports the operations of the Yerevan center.

Over the years, TUMO has received contributions from other donors, with a large portion coming from the Armenian diaspora. The goal of its Armenia campaign is to raise $50 million to $60 million to complete a network of 16 centers and 110 mobile TUMO Boxes and cover 3 to 5 years of operations.

TUMO also developed an international franchising model. It expects the franchise fee paid by international centers to help finance not only research and development but also its operations in Armenia.

What is TUMO in a Box?

The TUMO Box is an easy-to-move, low-cost, and technically equipped mini TUMO, made of recycled shipping containers. It makes the TUMO curriculum in the fields of technology and design accessible to young people from smaller or more remote communities. Students living near a TUMO Box will go through the self-learning phase before being transferred to the nearest TUMO center for in-person training.

Each box can accommodate 16 students and two coaches at a time. It can serve up to 350 students per week. It is connected to the nearest TUMO center, which should be no longer than 45 minutes to an hour away.

There are roughly 20 boxes deployed across the country.

What has been TUMO’s impact?

TUMO serves 20,000 students in Armenia and 5,000 students abroad. Its growing global footprint shows that the TUMO model works even outside the country. Students stay an average of 2 years at TUMO, which imposes no requirements for them to come. Some of its alumni have moved on to pursue further studies, successful careers, and their own businesses. Examples are Abel Ghazinyan, co-founder of AI app Dzook, and former programmer Rafi Aharonyan, who has ventured into agribusiness.

How does TUMO work with international partners?

The program was first offered outside the country in Paris in 2018. The mayor of the city visited the Yerevan center to see if the same solution for digital and creative industries education would also work in Paris. Within 6 months, TUMO Paris was up and running, serving up to 1,500 students weekly.

Since then, international growth has outpaced domestic expansion with new centers opened in Beirut, Berlin, Kyiv, Lyon, Moscow, Tirana, and Zurich, with 10 additional centers planned for Brazil, Germany, Portugal, and the United States in the next 2 years.

TUMO has a team dedicated to the improvement, standardization and scalability of the program to ensure smooth localization and deployment of centers around the world. The team works directly with local partners to support them in each step of the project—from the discovery phase through operations, providing guidance and quality assurance.

TUMO partners with local entities through a franchise structure, providing a cloud-based education management system along with hundreds of hours of educational content delivered through the TUMO Path and accompanying in-person workshops. Partners are responsible for local projects and management of the center, providing the location, operating staff, and funding.

Over the last 3 years, TUMO has partnered with a diverse group of progressive organizations. In Paris, it partnered with the city government to deploy the center through an existing cultural institution, which serves as the operator of the center. In Berlin, the project was funded by state-owned bank KfW and operated by Accenture, which won a public tender. In Tirana, the Albanian American Development Foundation and the city of Tirana funded the project and created a dedicated entity to operate the program. While in Moscow, Kyiv, Zurich, and Beirut, private, civically minded organizations fund and operate the centers.

TUMO is actively working with future partners in both the public and private sectors across Europe, the US, and Asia.


Pegor Papazian
Cofounder, TUMO

Pegor Papazian has played a lead role in developing TUMO’s educational content and learning management system. He was previously Head of Program Development at USAID, CEO of the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, and founder of Bazillion Beings. He graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from MIT (where he was a member of the AI Lab), and a bachelor's in Architecture from the American University of Beirut.

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Marie Lou Papazian

As founding CEO, Marie Lou Papazian developed TUMO’s educational program and led the design and construction of its flagship facility. Prior to TUMO, she led the Education for Development Foundation, linking Armenian students with their global peers through online educational activities. She holds a master’s degree in Computing in Education from the Teachers College at Columbia University and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s General Management Program. In 2019, she received the Ordre des Palmes académiques from the French Republic.

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