By Annette Chrysostomou
THE government will have to stick to its guns in the face of opposition it is likely to face if it wants to succeed with the deal reached earlier this week between the leaders of the two communities to change the face of education, experts have said.
On Wednesday, President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci agreed to tackle racism and xenophobia and extremism. A new technical committee for education is to review existing research and good practices in education in Cyprus and abroad and undertake new relevant research on how education can contribute to conflict transformation, peace and reconciliation. There will also be contact and co-operation between students and educators from the two communities.
The deal is seen as a response to an attack on Turkish Cypriot cars on November 16 by schools pupils during an anti-occupation demonstration in the capital. Around 15 Greek Cypriot teens have been charged over the attacks in which three Turkish Cypriots were injured.
Experts in the field told the Sunday Mail that the establishment of such a committee was long overdue. They agreed that education was a slow process; and it was important to tackle it now.
“It is a good decision and a step in the right direction,” said Androulla Vassiliou, former EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth and currently chairperson of the bi-communal technical committee on culture.
“It’s a slow process but you have got to start from somewhere. If you leave everything until after reunification it will probably be too late. You have got to prepare the ground,” she said. “It is our duty to build a culture of peace and this should be our priority. However, it is a sensitive issue. The government has to really back it; they will find a lot of opposition. It will be successful if it is the political will of the government to go ahead.”
Vassiliou said the educational committee should cooperate with the cultural committee and supplement each other to promote peace by visiting cultural heritage sites, attending lectures and musical events.
“Over the past 41 years, there hasn’t been much contact. The information young people get is from the parents and the schools. You cannot do much about the parents, but schools can make children understand,” she said.
Sofronis Sofroniou, who has more than 35 years of experience in tertiary education, also applauded the decision, but commented that it was “very late but necessary”. He believes education is in need of a profound change. “In most schools there is a 19th century view of both history and nationalism,” he said. “This ignorance is a kind of defence, which is understandable, but ignorance leads to bad consequences. We need a drastic change towards understanding Turkish Cypriots as our compatriots.”
He told the Sunday Mail that it was not only the schools which poisoned the atmosphere. “All Cypriot TV stations, public and private, dwell on Turkish brutality,” he said. “We have to get over dwelling on the past, it destroys the future. The world has changed and old attitudes are now defunct.”
Kyriakos Pachoulides, board member of the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research thinks the decision is positive. “It was needed a long time ago, but better late than never,” he said. “We should find ways to bring young people together and foster a collaboration of schools and teachers across the divide.”
Pachoulides said that if the two sides were serious about reunification “and want a better country for our children we need to find ways to involve them. Our educational system has to promote mutual understanding.”
“Any change takes time. But it cannot be otherwise if it is to flourish. Long-term change is more sustainable and has deeper roots. Measures need sincere commitment to lead to real change. We need more than superficial events if we want to cater for the needs of a new generation,” he said.