EDUCATION has always been big business in Cyprus because parents will spare no expense in helping their children achieve the best possible exam results to gain a place at a good university that would in turn improve opportunities for a well-paid job. Rightly or wrongly, education has always been viewed as the ticket to enhanced job opportunities, a higher standard of living and social status. A university degree does not guarantee a place in the public sector, but for the well-connected who do get in, it ensures a high entry wage and significant annual pay increments.
Afternoon private lessons, either at tutorial centres or privately by individual teachers have been thriving. And it is not just students of state schools that have afternoon lessons but also those who attend private schools and are determined to receive top A level marks that would secure entry to a top university. Children whose parents pay significant amounts on private school fees, it would seem, feel they need afternoon lessons to score the top marks.
In the case of state school students the need for afternoon private lessons is easier to understand. The standard of teaching is often poor and often the curriculum is not completed during the school year, while little support or help is provided in the class-room. Children that want to have a chance of getting into the public universities of Cyprus and Greece have little choice but to spend their afternoons having extra lessons because, as everyone knows, state schools do not prepare them adequately.
Last week, the head of the association of private tutorial centres claimed that more than a third of state school teachers provided private tutoring in the afternoons to children from their morning classes. Apart from being illegal – it is a violation of the employment contract – this practice is also unethical and corrupt. A state school teacher has a personal, financial interest in short-changing children taught in the classroom so he or she creates a need for afternoon tuition. Not all state teachers are guilty of such dishonesty, but there is obviously a significant proportion that is.
Only the Tassos Papadopoulos government tried to tackle this scandal and the police made some arrests, but there was such a reaction from the mighty teaching unions and political parties that the clampdown was eventually abandoned. Last Friday, education minister, Costas Kadis, admitted the problem and claimed a mechanism had been agreed with the chief of police to deal with complaints of this nature. Some cases had ended up in court he said. It would be very interesting to learn how many state teachers have been charged for giving lessons in the afternoons and how many, if any, have been sacked.
This exploitation of state school students and their parents by dishonest teachers must be stopped, even though we very much doubt drastic measures will be taken by the education ministry in a presidential election year.