By Elias Hazou
WORLD Bank experts are due here shortly to share their findings of a review of the state education system, which the government intends to streamline as part of a broader reform of public administration.
Expected to arrive in the first week of May, the experts will brief education ministry officials and teachers on their findings. The World Bank has prepared two reports on education; one concerns the structure and operation of the education ministry, the other relates to teachers.
In their reports, the World Bank experts also make recommendations which however are not binding, education minister Costas Kadis explained.
“Nor can we dismiss their findings out of hand,” he said.
The briefings by the World Bank experts will be followed by a period of consultation between the ministry and teachers’ organisations aimed at consensus-building. The government hopes to have the broad outline of a strategic plan in place by June. But this urgency has teachers’ unions worried that the government intends to steamroll through the proposed reforms.
As part of its obligations arising from the bailout, the government last year commissioned an independent external review of possible further reforms of the public administration, undertaken by the World Bank and the UK public administration. The first batch covers the ministries of agriculture, education and health, as well as local government and the department of Registrar of Companies; the second batch deals with the remaining ministries.
Among the items being reviewed are remuneration and working conditions (annual vacation leave, sick leave, working time), and the introduction of a new performance-based appraisal system in the public sector.
According to the updated (March 2014) memorandum of understanding between Cyprus and its international lenders, “authorities will agree on a reform plan after consultation with programme partners, which will be approved by the Council of Ministers by Q2-2014. The relevant legislation in relation with the reforms indicated as high priority will be adopted by the House of Representatives by Q3-2014. The reform will start to be implemented by Q4-2014, in accordance with the reform plan.”
It’s understood the new system would be rolled out gradually, starting in September 2015, and will go through a long transition period before it becomes fully operational.
“The World Bank findings may not be binding, but at the same time there are issues which we all agree need to be fixed,” Kadis told the Cyprus Mail.
One such issue is the appointment of educators and the long waiting list. Under the current system, graduates add their names to a list and are appointed on a first-come first-served basis, which could take anything from ten to 25 years. At last count there were over 30,000 names on the list.
“Right now the sole criterion for appointment is seniority, i.e. when someone finished their studies. Today, the average age of a new appointee is 40 to 45 years. In many cases, these people are not up-to-date with the new material and advances of the last 20 years since they graduated,” said Kadis.
He added: “As it’s set up now, the system is incapable of weeding out inadequate educators.”
The new criteria mulled include the need to take a written exam, and the compulsory inclusion of a certificate of teacher training for secondary and technical education in the application process in order to get on the teachers’ waiting list.
Teachers’ unions, up in arms over the proposed changes, have come up with a counter-proposal: create a new waiting list which will include temporary, substitute and contracted teachers who have yet to be allocated a full-time position.
Promotions and on-the-job training of teachers are other things being looked at.
As far as the government machine is concerned, the World Bank has found the education ministry to be “too centralised.”
Currently, the minister and the permanent secretary often deal with day-to-day technocratic issues, leaving little time to forge education policy. This concentration of duties has to be diluted, said Kadis.