By Evie Andreou
THE APPALLING exam results announced earlier in the week were a combination of failures within the school system, exam levels far above what students are taught, and a huge drop off in afternoon lessons due to the financial crisis, educators have told the Sunday Mail.
In the Pancyprian exams, average student grades fell below the pass mark in two subjects and hovered around the pass/fail mark in four others. In total, among the 8,570 registered candidates, of which 215 were no-shows, approximately one in two (4,139) students scored below the pass mark of 10, and 3,605 got between 10 and 15.
In addition, 804 candidates got grades from 16 to 18, and 22 candidates scored 19 to 20.
The results, which were as poor as last year, came within weeks of the publication of the World Bank Report on the educational system, which was found to be teacher-centric with results not commensurate with the amount of money spent on education as a percentage of GDP.
To compound the continued general failure of the system, the financial crisis has taken a huge toll on afternoon lessons, once a mainstay of Cypriot education, which likely has served to mask the weaknesses in the system for years, though not all educators believe that is the main reason.
While it would be difficult to compile exact figures since many state teachers moonlight illegally as afternoon tutors, some legally registered institutes say they have seen a 40-50 per cent drop in attendees over the past two years due to the crisis.
Others appear to have offset such a huge fall as other parents now opt for state school with additional afternoon lessons instead of paying for expensive private schools.
“Cypriot parents invest a lot of money on ensuring that their children receive the best education, even if that means paying money for afternoon private lessons,” the World Bank report notes. “A recent survey in Europe has shown that Cyprus is the second country among the European countries in investing money on private tutoring.”
But has the lucrative bubble now burst?
The Liperi M Educational Centre in Larnaca, which prepares students for the Pancyprian exams said they had seen enrolments fall by 40-50 per cent the two last years.
The Neorama institute in Nicosia said the same. Others, like the Cubic Maths Institute in Limassol said they had seen a slight decrease in enrolments due to the crisis, while Iacovos Stylianou, the manager of Intercity, an institute chain in Nicosia said they had reduced tuition fees and the enrolments were pretty much at the same level as previous years.
Andreas Constantinou from Paphos, the owner of the Aristo-Telio Institute, which teaches Greek language, said it was irrelevant whether students attended institutes or not.
He puts the failures down to state teachers.
“The school system is a very good one and we are paying dearly for it. It is the lack of its application by the teachers that is the problem,” he said. “There should be a constant evaluation of the teachers to test their efficiency in class in order to understand where things go wrong”.
This very point was made in the World Bank Report, which called for more and earlier evaluations for teachers, who generally are not evaluated until they have been ten years or so on the job.
Constantinou said there were too many school principals and deputy principals and high-ranking educators wrapped up in paper work who do not produce sufficient class work.
Andreas Neophytou, owner of ‘To Oikonomiko’ a private institute in Limassol, which has been teaching accounting and political economy for 30 years said that he too had seen a huge fall in enrollments, even though they had cut fees by 30-40 per cent.
He doesn’t believe however that this drop in afternoon lessons is the biggest reason for the poor results, but the level of difficulty of the Pancyprian exams.
“Even though this [drop in private lessons] may have affected results to some extent, the reason why students don’t perform well in the Pancyprian exams is because the level is higher than what used to be the school leaving exams,” Neophytou said.
He said he knew this would happen when the Pancyprian exams were introduced in 2006.
The Pancyprian exams are the unification of what used to be the school leaving exam and the university entrance exam, the level of which is higher, he said, adding that there was no longer a listof questions for students to choose from.
“Now they have to answer all questions in the exam paper, which makes things more difficult for them,” Neophytou said.
Alkisti Varnava, deputy head of the state secondary school teachers union OELMEK, told the Sunday Mail that the lack of private lessons was not the reason students were failing.
“We had poor results last year and the year before that. There are many reasons,” she said.
Varnava also pointed the finger at the Pancyprian exam saying ever since it was introduced results had taken a turn for the worse. They were on a whole other level, she said, adding that there needed to be more coordination between teachers, those who draw up the exams and those who correct them so that the content is closer to the school curriculum.
The OELMEK representative said the system needed a different approach because students were on unfamiliar ground with the Pancyprian exam.
Despite the opinion that afternoon lessons did not have a big impact on exam results, the World Bank report noted the correlation, saying that an anticipated increase in enrollment in higher education following the merging of the two exams, did not follow, “which has fueled concerns about the inequitable implications of private tutoring,” it said, suggesting that those who took afternoon lessons had a better chance of passing the more difficult exam and securing a university place.