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Our View: Education policy should not be shaped by public demand

THIS NEWSPAPER has written many times about the absurdity of having a secondary school student union that is taken seriously by the education ministry, the political parties and the media. Having a group of underage kids, behaving like union activists and demanding a say in how the state education system should be run is not a sign of advanced democracy and pluralism, but just another manifestation of the political immaturity and populism that blights the country.

It just makes no sense that teenagers, who are not trusted by society to vote or sign a legal document and are the legal responsibility of their parents, should be given a say in how state schools are run. And this is exactly what has happened. Representatives of the secondary students organisation PSEM have had meetings with the education minister – another one is scheduled for Wednesday – they have been invited to air their view at the House and now they have the backing of parents associations for their childish behaviour.

On Tuesday PSEM called a walk-out from classes for one period in protest against the supposed indifference shown by the ministry to their demands and problems. They refused to be used as ‘guinea pigs’ for the changes being made to education and would not tolerate to be in schools without teachers and in mixed classes. Education minister Costas Kadis noted that the teenagers’ criticism of education policy was suspiciously similar to that if a political party. He was obviously referring to AKEL which probably has its teenage cadres running PSEM.

But the minister has only himself to blame. He should never have recognised PSEM, let along given it legitimacy by having meetings with it. A serious minister would have ignored the group and refused to meet it on the grounds that education policy was not something 15- and 16-year-olds could understand and express views on. But he was too frightened to take such a sensible stance – AKEL would have accused him of being undemocratic – so he will keep meeting the kids. Worse still, he announced that he would be touring the districts to discuss education issues with parents and students as if policy should be shaped by public demand.

Meanwhile, kids also demanded a reduction of school expenses such as exam registration fees and fees for attending state institutes for additional teaching in the afternoons. For these demands they had the support of parents’ associations, which seem as clueless about the real problem of education as their offspring – teaching unions. If the teachers did their jobs properly and the school day was longer, kids would not have the added expense of attending state institutes for additional lessons. While the members of PSEM are too young and immature to think of this, their parents should have brought it up instead of condoning their children’s disruptive behaviour.

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