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Cyprus Education

University head in plea for education overhaul

University of Cyprus rector Constantinos Christofides

By Evie Andreou

The rector of the University of Cyprus Constantinos Christofides called over the weekend for a comprehensive overhaul of the state education system which excluded any say from the unions.

In an open letter published in Phileleftheros on Sunday, focusing on the poor results by Cypriot students at the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) between 2009 and 2012, Christofides criticised the educational reforms the government announced earlier last year.

The report was compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and was first released in December 2013. It has been called the biggest-ever education league table so far.

According to the report some 32.8 per cent of 15-year-old Cypriots had poor skills in reading, the third worst in the EU after Bulgaria and Romania, Christofides said. The average for poor reading skills in the EU is 17.8 per cent.

A total of 42 per cent also had problems with maths, ranking second to worst in the EU after Bulgaria while in the sciences the percentage was 38.6, the worst in the EU. “These disheartening results should deeply trouble us, instead of celebrating sporadic educational reforms and the potential abolition of the appointment list in 2027,” Christofides said in his letter, referring to changes to the ways teachers are appointed.

Cyprus, he said, spends almost €1 billion on education. According to the study, he said, every country’s spending on education significantly affects educational success, but still only accounts for a 6 per cent fluctuation of the students’ performance. “The remaining 94 per cent is reflected by public policy and its ability to make a difference.”

He added that Romania and Bulgaria rank last along with Cyprus. “Cyprus is clearly spending much bigger amounts. Therefore, we are doing something wrong.”

A comprehensive reformation of the country’s educational system was needed, he said.

He also said that Cyprus should ask how the knowledge and skills of the thousands of teachers employed by the education ministry could be better utilised, “… and how we can expel from the system all those who are not in a position to help our children”.

He was particularly critical of the teaching unions.

“I would very much like to see a serious approach also on behalf of the unions of our country,” he said.

Christofides called for action “to reverse our low rankings before it’s too late”.

A small country like Cyprus, he said, which relied mainly on its human resources, cannot afford “these extremely low percentages compared to the rest of the European countries”.

“I believe one of the greatest problems of any reform in the primary and higher education is that the ministry is discussing them with the unions, because unions have vested interests which clash with some of the reform proposals. Therefore, they should not be part of the dialogue,” he said.

According to the latest results of the PISA scale, released last May, Cyprus was ranked in 46th place out of 76 countries worldwide, and bottom among all EU member states.

On the PISA scale, the lowest score for basic skills in science and math is set at 420 – Cyprus’ position – compared to over 500 for the top 21 countries on the list.

Following the publication of the letter, both the heads of higher education teachers union OELMEK, and the primary education teachers union POED, Demetris Taliadoros and Fylios Fylaktou respectively, said that Christofides should make suggestions instead of announcing the results of past surveys. Taliadoros said that the rector had ulterior motives, while Fylaktou said his observations were “disappointing”.

The education reforms, announced last year, concern the reconfiguration of the syllabus and timetables in public schools, and a new education appointment system. This has been the most disputed proposal, as unions rushed to propose amendments to make sure that all teachers currently on waiting lists are guaranteed a post.

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