FOLLOWING extended debate, parliament on Friday approved a government proposal splitting the universal Pancyprian exams into separate school-leaving and university-entry exams, as well as regulations introducing mid-term exams in upper-secondary education.
The changes, which will take effect in September 2018, were opposed only by Akel deputies and the Greens’ leader Yiorgos Perdikis.
The government’s proposed education reform, including the controversial introduction of mid-term exams, has faced harsh criticism from state high-school pupils and the confederation of parents’ associations.
Originally scheduled to be put to a plenary vote last Friday, mounting pressure by a planned walk-out that pupils had announced in protest forced parliamentary parties to postpone the vote.
This week, parties agreed that implementation of the contentious measure, originally scheduled to start in the next school year, would be pushed back a year, with a two-year test run in the first two lyceum (upper-high school) classes.
In a statement on Friday, student union Psem expressed regret for the legislative amendment pushing back the roll-out of twice-yearly exams by one year.
“This does not change the substance of the Education ministry’s proposal to turn the public school to an examination centre,” Psem said.
“This measure will turn the school into a large examination centre, with students in constant agony over exams and a constant race to prepare for them.”
The proposal, Psem argued, is bound to increase “para-education”, a euphemism for public-school teachers giving students afternoon lessons on the side for a fee, with “students chasing grades and not knowledge”.
In a statement, the confederation of secondary education parents’ associations, which also opposes the measure, washed their hands of the affair and said they will accept no responsibility if the government’s proposals fail.
“We consider the intentions to introduce amendments to improve on the proposal a positive step,” the confederation said.
“These amendments mitigate some of our concerns. But we have a clear conscience that we have done whatever we could for the good of our children. Should these proposals fail, as parents we will bear none of the responsibility.”
The parents’ confederation said it plans to monitor preparations for the introduction of the proposal, through its participation in a special joint committee, and “work with stakeholders for its improvement”.
The Ministry of Education issued a statement praising the parliamentary vote and saying that the changes will herald a new age in modernising public schools and improving efficiencies and productivity.
Other parts of the education reform bill include:
Two exams in two semesters, instead of only end of year exams, relieving the pressure on students to prepare every May-June;
Placement and re-exams to take place in June, avoiding the anxiety in summer to prepare for resits;
Re-introduction of grades in the gymnasium (lower high school) for a more objective evaluation;
Booster lessons at the end of each semester and assistance to students with difficulties;
Introduction of the concept of ‘creativity, action, community service’ which will also be offered in the gymnasium years;
The abolition of the ‘unacceptable’ right of unjustified absences by students;
Parents or guardians will be informed immediately of any absence;
Expulsion measures are revised;
More active participation of parents in disciplinary actions;
Improvement of registration and transfer procedures that will also benefit students from private schools.