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Our View: The state education system set up to serve indolent teachers

Teachers demonstrating

TEACHING unions and their political patrons AKEL have been making a big fuss over the government’s plans not to renew the annual contracts of a couple of hundred state school teachers. These teachers were never hired on a permanent basis, but in past eras, during which governments mindlessly squandered taxpayer’s money, the renewal of their annual contract was guaranteed, regardless of the needs of state education. But the unions and AKEL are hanging on to the profligate past as if nothing has changed.

The only thing they acknowledge is that unemployment has risen dramatically, using this as an argument for the government to keep on all teachers on contracts. It would be wrong to add 100 or 200 of them to the ranks of the jobless, they both claimed, as if the taxpayer has a moral obligation to pay teachers that are surplus to state school requirements. As the education minister pointed out on Sunday, there would be 2,000 fewer students in the new school year because of the departure from Cyprus of many foreign families.

Is it so unreasonable for there to be reduction of teachers as well? It is not, but rational decisions seem to be anathema in a country that is still ruled by union bosses and populist politicians. Even now that the state is bankrupt, they want it to carry on employing teachers that are not needed. The government could have avoided all this if it had not changed the provision of the memorandum that stipulated no renewals of contracts of 500 state school teachers. Instead, it arranged a slightly bigger wage cut for public employees to generate the cash to pay the contract teachers. Now it, justifiably, wants to get rid of some of them, it is being attacked.

The real problem, however, is never mentioned by anyone. It is that we have an overstaffed state education system employing unmotivated, disinterested and grossly overpaid teachers. Much too big a percentage of the money the state spends on education goes on the teachers’ payroll and very little on raising standards. If there was ever a professional evaluation of the quality of education offered by the state, it would have found that we were paying too much money for the poor education (as shown by international tests) which state-school students are receiving. This is what we should be concentrating on and not how many teachers the state employs.

But thanks to our unions and political parties we have a state education system set up to serve indolent teachers, satisfying their demand for maximum money for minimum work. The interests for school-children are of little importance in this arrangement, which nobody dares change, fearing the reaction of the teaching unions. But as long as the government bows to the teaching unions, the poor standard of state education will not improve.

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