Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Education

Ministry ‘fully aware’ of critical state of public education (Update 2)

UCY rector Costas Christophides

By Constantinos Psillides

The education ministry is fully aware of the critical state of public education and is taking steps towards comprehensive reform, Education Minister Kostas Kadis said in response to the letter sent by University of Cyprus rector Constantinos Christofides to the President.

“We share many of the rector’s concerns. At present we are developing policies to address both the quality of educators and the syllabus. There are a lot of problems that need to be resolved and that is why we have opened so many fronts,” said Kadis, adding that past administrations had also failed to implement comprehensive reform.

Progress on education reform has been slow, since the teachers’ unions regularly clash with the ministry.

Kadis elected to steer away from responding to Christofides’ scathing comments on the teachers’ unions. The minister noted only that “through a discussion with all stakeholders, decisions will be made to amend the current situation.”
Kadis said the end of the current school year would be a landmark for future decisions.

“We now have both the will and the proper ideas at our disposal. We hope that we can achieve a broad concession so we can proceed with the appropriate measures,” said Kadis.
University of Cyprus (UCy) rector Christofides, in a letter to President Nicos Anastasiades, accused teacher unions of dismantling the education system to serve their own interests.

The rector also proposed a twelve step action plan that focuses on continuous teacher evaluation and training.
“Of course, I do realise that teacher unions will go ahead with strikes because they do not want change. I believe that it is your duty to handle any crisis that might occur, for the good of the country,” wrote the rector, arguing that even if the teachers go on strike the president should not compromise the reform.

“It is better for our pupils to miss a couple of weeks of classes than our country losing more future generations,” he said.

The UCy rector pointed out that low test scores in international competitions and the falling standards of public education affect the university primarily.
“Students begin their studies completely unprepared. You should note that many of the students don’t even have a good grasp on Greek! They find it difficult to string two sentences together and express themselves adequately. When it comes to applied sciences, their level is disappointing. Students in the 90s where at a far higher level when it came to mathematics, compared with the students of this decade,” Christofides said, adding that his experience only stemmed from the 20 per cent that was admitted to the university, “who supposedly are the elite of public education.”

“It is disheartening that the system produces such a low equality education, especially considering that almost a billion is spent on education annually.”
The rector breaks his action plan on educational reform in 12 steps.
Among others, he suggests scrapping the teachers’ waiting list and introducing a new recruitment policy based on exams, extend the school year by 15 days, upgrade technical schools, and spend money on fixing school laboratories and classrooms.

Under the current recruitment 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.
Christofides also suggested a complete overhaul of the promotion and evaluation policies.

The rector suggested abolishing age and work experience as promotion criteria and replacing them with work performance evaluation and exams.
He also proposed introduction of quantifiable performance criteria, especially for headmasters.
The rector argued that the headmasters should also be given incentives to achieve goals set by the ministry.

Moreover, he proposes that a compulsory training programme for educators was implemented, “so teachers are better equipped to face modern educational challenges.”
Christofides said a minimum entrance exam grade must also be introduced for admission to universities.
Provided that there are enough seats available for a department, a student can theoretically be admitted regardless of exam results under the current system.
Christofides also recommended setting up a special exam for private school graduates so they could compete for a spot at the university.
As it stands now, students from private schools have a much harder time being admitted to the university because their syllabus differs from that of public schools, upon which the university entrance exams are based.

In June last year the World Bank issued a report slamming the government on failing to implement comprehensive educational reform. The reports zeroed in on teacher policies and on the educational structure. The World Bank said Cyprus’ high expenditure on education was not translating into improved learning for children, and advocated scrapping the teacher waiting list. It also said the education ministry was overstaffed and there was little if any formal assessment of student learning. The World Bank noted moreover that the country’s investment in education did 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.

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