By Evie Andreou
MATTERS got of control on Wednesday when some of the several hundred students who had gathered outside the Education ministry to put pressure for the realisation of all their demands started hurling rocks and fruit at the ministry building.
During the protest, organised by the student body PSEM, all entrances to the ministry were closed while police officers guarded the building, since large numbers of students from all towns were expected to take part.
PSEM said the exemption of needy graduate-year students from the fees of the university entrance exams that the ministry announced last month, proves that there is margin for more student support measures.
Students had also asked for the elimination of tariffs on school buses, an increase in places offered in state higher education institutions and the assurance that all places will be distributed to candidates.
“We do not achieve our goals by throwing stones and lemons at the ministry,” Education minister Costas Kadis said after the incident.
Kadis said that his ministry is always open to dialogue with the students and that the ministry has already taken measures to support vulnerable groups.
He added that recently the Cabinet approved the exemption of needy students from paying the fees for the university entrance exams and the subsidy for the purchase of laptops by second and third grade gymnasium students.
He said that the wrong messages are being sent to students, that if a protest is made, then the ministry will cave in.
“These decisions were not the result of any protest, they would have been taken anyway within the framework of support measures to vulnerable groups,” Kadis said.
The head of PSEM, Loizos Kyriakides, who met with the head of secondary education at the ministry, Dr Kyprianos Louis, frowned upon the stone throwing and said that it was an isolated incident.
“We condemn such incidents, they do not represent us and we call on students to be more careful so that this doesn’t happen again in the future,” he said.
Louis said that some of the students’ demands are in the process of being looked into while the ministry will be in a dialogue with the students about the rest.
“I hope students are satisfied with the answers they got today and I hope they transfer these messages the right way to their fellow students,” Louis said.
In the meantime, primary school and kindergarten teachers’ union POED staged a 35-minute work stoppage to protest against the work regime of substitute teachers.
Up until last year, primary school substitutes were paid for a full-time schedule regardless if they were teaching lesser hours, but that policy was revised and substitute teachers are now paid only for the hours they teach, which they say affects the smooth operation of schools.