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Our view: No half-measures for teacher appointment reform

FOR YEARS now, this newspaper has been calling for an end to the scandalous, ‘waiting list’ system of hiring secondary school teachers by the state. For years, we had argued that the indiscriminate hiring of graduates, for no reason other than that their name had come up, was a crime against our children, generations of whom were condemned to a sub-standard education, as documented by the poor results of Cypriot students in international education surveys.

There was a rationale to the ‘waiting list system’, but it had nothing to do with education. It was put in place in order to eliminate the favouritism practised in teaching appointments by the political parties and the government of the day. To ensure against this, our wise leaders thought up a system that was 100 times worse. Anyone with a degree in a subject taught at state secondary schools, put their name on the ‘teaching applicants’ list and when their turn to be appointed came, five, 10 or 15 years later, they were automatically christened teachers. There was no interview and no test, just a letter informing them the name of the school they would work at.

Worse still, these graduates often had taken jobs unrelated to education in the interim and were not required to have done any teacher training before being allowed in the classroom. Only in the last few years were they obliged to undergo some basic teacher training organised by the education ministry. In theory, teachers were on trial for two years and if they were found inadequate, their appointment would not be made permanent, but predictably nobody was rejected. Is there any business in the world that would hire someone without an interview, without looking at their CV, simply on the strength of the person having a degree? And is there any country in the world that would blindly hire graduates years after they graduated to teach school-children.

The current education minister has now prepared a proposal to change this ludicrous appointment system, but is encountering strong opposition from the teaching union OELMEK, which argues that the rights of the people on the waiting list had to be protected. In other words we must continue to penalise children, because taking steps to improve teaching standards would be unfair on graduates. It is depressing to hear such arguments from a union made up of people with university degrees.

The truth is that the minister’s reform plan does not go far enough. The waiting list should be scrapped and all interested graduates should apply when there are teaching vacancies; the minister proposed that apart from an interview, applicants would also have to sit a test. This is not enough. Before applying, graduates should have to follow and pass a full year’s teacher training course (like the one in the UK), which could be provided by University of Cyprus and include a couple of months’ practical experience in teaching. Those with the best marks would be appointed first on two-year trial.

Such an arrangement would also eliminate most of the graduates who want to become state school teachers because of the long holidays and short working hours. And as the government wants to change a rotten system it should go all the way and avoid half-measures and compromise solutions that would not keep the reactionary union happy anyway.

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