By George Koumoullis
ALL THE FUSS surrounding the English School teacher who is being threatened with the sack because as deputy head teacher he had reprimanded a female colleague with a “raised voice” reminds me of Victor Hugo’s well-known novel Les Miserables.
Almost all of us have read the book or seen the movie about the starving young man Jean Valjean who steals a loaf of bread and is sentenced to 19 years hard labour. Many decades had to pass before I encountered in real life a similarly disproportionate (potentially) punishment.
It is unheard of for a strict reprimand – if indeed it were strict which is also debatable – to be adequate reason for terminating the employment of the “guilty” party. It is unheard of for an investigation into allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” to remain inconclusive for the 20 months, as if it were dealing with the most heinous crime of the 21st century. It is unheard of for the school’s board of management, which is obliged to support teachers so they can perform their duties well, to apply soul-destroying pressure on a teacher and make a mockery of all notions of decent behaviour and due process.
But the most laughable aspect of the story is that the real reason for the persecution of the deputy head-teacher is not that he raised his voice at a colleague, as even the last idiot would have known. And it is a pity that the board of management, although burdened with a heavy history, is trying through devious means to sack a teacher with a long and productive service.
Even at the last minute, it would have been a thousand times better if the board discarded its hypocritical stance and openly declared that a teacher of leftist beliefs and a supporter of rapprochement had to be banished from the English School. Although most people would have disagreed with such a policy, its directness and honesty would have been appreciated.
The blame for this ridiculous childishness at the English School lies with successive governments which choose and appoint the members of the board, based on political party criteria and not on educational and/or administrative experience. And there is a political issue with the current composition of the board as most of its members are from the political far right. Someone from the far right is by definition nationalist and intolerant and manically imposes his worldview. In this pursuit, he strengthens Turko-phobia which has adverse effects on Cypriot society.
For example, the exclusion of Turkish Cypriots from the school parents’ association is in stark contrast with the spirit of a Cyprus settlement. The setting of the date of the school leavers’ dance on a day that the Turkish Cypriot students had an exam – something the board was fully aware of – was another blow to efforts to promote friendship between the students of the two communities. The board’s supposed unawareness of the date clash was just a legalistic excuse.
The apex of Turko-phobia, however, was the school’s decision not to recognise and observe the Bairam religious holiday, even though many were in favour including the Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou. This decision stems from the contempt and hatred the nationalists nurse for the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and the participation of the two communities in the instruments and structures of the federal government.
The revulsion the members of the board feel for the Turkish Cypriots was highlighted in a report of March 2014, titled ‘Observations on the governance at the English School’, by the former headmaster of the school Graham Gamble. He wrote among other things:
“The School continues to make decisions that simultaneously alienate much of its Greek Cypriot majority as well as its Turkish Cypriot minority. The School has not succeeded in articulating and embedding the bi-communal vision that was such a key part of its founder Canon Newham’s vision and that was lost between 1963 and 2013. In that time, it seems that the School has become a certain kind of playground and social club for wealthy and nationalistic Greek Cypriots who do not appear to want any other kind of pupil in the school. Thus, Turkish Cypriot pupils are dissuaded from applying because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that the school does not welcome them or respect their culture.”
The only way of effectively dealing with the ideological anachronism of the English School is by immediately replacing the members of the board. New members should satisfy three basic criteria: 1) have no links to the political parties; 2) be morally unimpeachable; 3) have a proven track record in education and/or management. Only then would the mounting problems the school faces be tackled. Why, for instance, has the number of students applying for a place been in steady decline for the last nine years? Why are the buildings not maintained properly? Why do the overwhelming majority of the students in the senior classes have private lessons?
Of course, in the school’s defence the members of the board would cite the students’ excellent results. But why should a selective school not have excellent results. Bearing in mind, however, that almost all students have afternoon private lessons (for one lesson, literally ALL students of the 5th, 6th and 7th form have afternoon tuition) to whom should the credit for the results be given? To the English School or the outside teachers that offer the afternoon tuition?
It is the duty of all of us to stop the ravaged English School from becoming the natural ally of those who promote xenophobia, nationalism, obscurantism and patriotism-mongering. The government possesses the magic wand to make things right as it has the power to get rid of all board members and appoint people that satisfy the three criteria I mentioned above.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist