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Our View: Cypriot children will continue to receive a sub-standard education, as long as unions are in control

IF MORE tangible proof, of the damage done to the country by all-powerful unions that cannot see beyond the interests of their members, was required it was provided by results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. Cyprus’ 15-year-olds were the worst performing among EU member states achieving the worst results in sciences, second worst in maths and third worst in reading skills.

Cypriot children have consistently fared badly in international assessments comparing education standards in different countries, so the latest results should come as no surprise. What should surprise everyone is the poor value for money we are getting from our state education system, which absorbs a very big chunk of public expenditure. In fact, if spending on education, as a proportion of GDP, was reflected in the results of such assessments Cypriot children should have been at the top of the lists.

But despite spending more than most countries on state education, in relative terms, standards are alarmingly low because the bulk of the expenditure goes on teachers’ salaries and benefits. Cyprus has the second highest-paid teachers in the EU and the lowest education standards because militant teaching unions have managed to take for their members most of the money spent on education while at minimising the work done in schools by teachers.

State school teachers do a paltry 18 hours of teaching a week, and the hours are reduced if the teacher is given other duties such as the library or the staging of the Christmas play. They finish work at 1pm and work less than half the days of the year. Primary schools have been split in two separate sections each having its own head teacher and deputy head so there could be more posts for promotions and higher remuneration. These scandalous conditions have been imposed by unions, with the consent of irresponsible politicians, to create more teaching jobs.

The result is that no resources are left to invest in teaching aids, facilities such as labs and modernising of teaching methods, which remain stuck in the 1960s. In fact any attempts by the education ministry to modernise the education system have met with the resistance of teachers. The latest reform drive, began by the Papadopoulos government, is still nowhere near completion because of the teachers’ opposition – at one point they were refusing to participate in training for the new curriculum.

But nothing illustrates the poisonous effect unions have on education than the current dispute over the gradual abolition of the criminal waiting list system for teachers’ appointments. Teachers will hold a work stoppage next week because they want the government to give permanent jobs to all contract teachers, before the new system is introduced in 2015. This is just a pretext. Unions want the criminal system, which ensures the most incompetent, lazy and poorly-qualified graduates – even those who cannot teach – become state school teachers, to be preserved.

This is why state secondary education is of such a low standard – it suits teachers as many of them double their income giving private lessons in the afternoon. Sadly, Cypriot children will continue to receive a sub-standard education, as long as unions are in control of the education system which has always served the interests of teachers and never of students.

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