By Jean Christou
CYPRUS’ high expenditure on education is not translating into improved learning for children, the teachers’ waiting list must be abolished, the education ministry is overstaffed and there is little if any formal assessment of student learning, the long-awaited World Bank report on the island’s education system, published last night reveals.
The two reports, one on teacher policies, and one on the educational structure said that despite several attempts to reform the system in Cyprus “little has resulted”
“While experts have made substantial suggestions on how to reform the institutional organisation of the education sector, teacher policies, evaluation and assessment mechanisms, the higher education subsector, and the curricula, only the curriculum reform has been carried out,” said the report.
It said the country’s investment in education does not yield commensurate outcomes. Public expenditure on education in Cyprus is around 7.8 per cent of GDP, which is high by international and European standards. Annual public and private expenditure in Cyprus is €9,145 per pupil, which is higher than the EU average of €6,900.
“Although it is difficult to draw any concrete conclusions because of a lack of learning achievement data, it does appear that the high expenditures on education are not translating into improved learning outcomes for children,” the report added.
It said Cyprus’ educational outcomes, as measured by average national scores in PISA and TIMSS, were below what might be expected given the country’s level of economic development and investments in education. Results from PISA and TIMSS place students in Cyprus significantly below the OECD average in reading, mathematics, and science.
“There is very little formal assessment of student learning. Consequently, it is difficult for the MoEC (Ministry of Education and Culture) to identify and address systemic issues of education quality and to adjust policy in a timely manner,” the World Bank said.
It also said the hiring of teachers did not take account of demographic trends. Despite the drop in the school age population, the number of teachers employed in the system has grown steadily over the last few years. In addition, policies related to teacher selection, promotion, and evaluation are not conducive to providing effective education services, added the report.
The ministry, it said, employs 717 staff managing a sector with 12,065 teachers (a ratio of 1 to 17) and 144,000 students (a ratio of 1 to 201). “These ratios are very high compared to other countries in Europe and may reflect inefficiencies in the system,” the report said, adding that a number of departments appear to have a large number of staff for the relatively few functions that these departments have been assigned compared to their equivalents in comparable countries.
This means the allocation of responsibilities is not always clear and that the structure of the MoEC was not optimal for delivering its mandate.
Proposals have been made for reforming the governance of education, the recruitment, evaluation, and promotion of teachers, the structure of the school system, and the structure of the MoEC. Yet these reform proposals have never been put into practice resulting in the reform effort having produced less change than might have been anticipated.
The World Bank said one of the key factors seems to have been a misjudgment about how easy it would be to implement the changed policies. This misjudgment seems to be indicative of a lack of capacity in the area of reform planning and implementation. “Another obstacle to reform may have been resistance from groups with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, possibly including teachers’ unions, inspectors who would have lost their jobs under some reform proposals, and staff at the MoEC whose jobs may have been eliminated in a restructuring of the MoEC,” the report said.
“Cyprus’ high expenditure on education and the increasing numbers of teachers is not translating into improved learning performance for children,” the World Bank said. The results of the 2003 and 2007 TIMSS placed Cypriot students below the OECD average in mathematics and science and below what might be expected given the country’s level of economic development and investment in education. Also, while almost all countries implement some form of external school evaluation and routinely publish their findings, Cyprus has not adopted this practice. Teacher policy areas also pose major challenges. “First, current policies privilege seniority over all other considerations, which likely reduces teaching quality and inhibits student learning. In practice, seniority is virtually the only characteristic used to assess and distinguish teachers from one another, in various policy areas—promotions, transfers, course loads, and even appointments,” the report said.
“Second, there is little information on learning outcomes, which reduces teachers’ ability to help their students and administrators’ ability to assess and strengthen teaching and teacher policies.” It said key policy options included reform the recruitment system to one that takes objective measures of merit into account; from this perspective, some aspects of the previous government’s proposal represented a move in the right direction., the Bank said. It also said teachers should be evaluated earlier in their careers, not just after 10 years.
The system was also criticised on the grounds that it focuses on teacher activities and not on student learning and that inspectors have too much power.
“There is a long queue of highly qualified candidates waiting to become teachers: more than three times as many candidates are waiting in the queue as there are teaching positions in the entire system,” the report said. This has led to a huge drop in students pursuing education as a career.
“This lack of objective measures of the knowledge and skills of the applicant is a weakness of the current system, which accords the highest priority for appointment to those who have been waiting the longest for a position. To remedy this weakness, the education reform proposed by the previous minister would introduce the requirement of an exam for all teacher candidates,” the Bank said.
And, over the past decade, the problem of the long waiting list has grown more severe. Now, in addition to the historically long list for teaching posts in secondary and vocational/technical education, a long list has also developed for primary-school candidates.
For example, based on rough estimates, it is unlikely that a school candidate who submitted his or her application during the past couple of years will be appointed as a school teacher, barring a change in the waiting-list procedures.
“In the case of Cyprus, the high salaries likely contribute to the very low rate of exit from the teaching profession; as noted earlier, most teachers stay in the system until retirement,” said the report.
The lengthy reports make a number of technical suggestions to improve both the set up in the schools and within the ministry itself.