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Our View: Quality, not quantity is what’s needed in education

ONLY IN Cyprus would it be possible for parents to stop their children going to school as a form of protest against education ministry policy. Yet the parents at Pyrgos have done just that, this week, for a second time this school year, in order to pressure the ministry to send more teachers to their primary school. 

“We have no other option than to take dynamic action,” declared the president of the parents’ association who claimed the ministry had gone back on a 2011 agreement to provide adequate staffing regardless of children numbers. Of course the question is, what constitutes adequate staffing? The ministry insisted that Pyrgos school had 1.5 teachers more than it was entitled to and parents should have accepted that there were strict staffing criteria for schools.

Pyrgos parents however are making the same mistake that parents make in all the rural areas of Cyprus – they believe that the more teachers a school has the higher the standard of education would be. It is the same thinking that attaches more value to the quality of school buildings than what goes on in the classroom. It does not seem to occur to anyone that what they should be demanding and taking dynamic action for should be quality rather than quantity. Two good, committed teachers are better than five disinterested ones.

However the issue of teacher numbers is the only thing that seems to matter. In Cyprus there is an average of one teacher for every 13 students, in state education, compared to the European average of one for every 25, but are standards twice as high? In a recently released survey, testing literacy and arithmetic skills in different countries, Cypriots aged between 45 and 56 had a much higher ranking than current Cypriot school leavers. Interestingly, 30 years ago, classes were much bigger and there were fewer teachers, but children were leaving schools with better literacy and arithmetic skills.

But nobody is taking dynamic action for better quality teaching, believing, wrongly, that big numbers of teachers guarantees quality. This mentality is widespread in rural areas where there are far too many primary schools serving too few children and parents are constantly complaining about teacher numbers. The state would save significant amounts of money if it had one primary school serving three or four villages instead of having a school in every village. Pyrgos, in fairness, does not fall into this category because it is in a remote area without neighbouring villages.

But this does not mean it is entitled to have as many teachers as parents were demanding and that more teachers would guarantee their kids a higher standard of education. Parents must realise that it is good teachers and not many teachers that provide a good education to their children.

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