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Cyprus

Audit boss calls for independent education study

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

MEASURES to modernise and consolidate public education, as well as the commissioning of an independent study, were among the proposals listed by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides in a letter to Education Minister Costas Kadis, released to the press on Tuesday.

In the letter, Michaelides cited studies suggesting Cypriot teachers spend fewer hours in classrooms, and have poorer results to show for higher pay, compared with other European countries, and described a “problem meticulously swept under the rug for years”.

The auditor-general argued that an independent study by an international organisation specialising on education will need to cover both primary and secondary education, take into account existing independent studies on the matter, and delve into every aspect revolving around the adoption of best practices employed in countries testing highest in public education across the European Union.

Such aspects, Michaelides noted, include teachers’ working hours, teaching hours, periods when schools are closed, and teacher duties at each level and rank.

Making the case for reform, the auditor-general referred to a 2014 study, Education at a Glance OECD Indicators, which found that teachers work an average 700 hours annually, while in Cyprus – and Greece – teachers work an average 450 to 500 hours, excluding ‘exemptions’ – periods taken off teaching in exchange for performing other duties in school.

“According to the report, the Cyprus figure results from the fact that high schools in Cyprus start the academic year around September 10, and end it somewhere from mid to end-May,” Michaelides noted.

“Schools also close for two weeks at Christmas and Easter, and are also closed on public holidays. An average of 20 teaching periods per week was taken, meaning 15 working hours.”

As pointed out in earlier Audit Service reports, he added, various independents studies have established that the high cost of public education in Cyprus is not reflected in academic results, a “particularly troubling” finding.

He also noted that a European Commission report from 2013 showed that Cypriot teachers are paid well above the EU average, but hastened to add that “this should be considered only with regard to the need to streamline working and teaching time, and not to salary cuts”.

The auditor-general also noted that a significant part of the problem is revealed by a comparison of the total working time of teachers, measured at some 30 hours per week, compared with the EU average of 35. Correcting this distortion, he added, would allow for further engagement of teachers to teaching and non-teaching tasks, but not at the expense of the already shrunk teaching time.

Such comparison becomes even more pointed, Michaelides said, when focusing on secondary-school headmasters, who perform managerial duties only (they are assigned no teaching time), working 30-hours weeks for 40 weeks per year, while civil servants who also perform managerial duties work 38-hour weeks all year round.

The auditor-general appealed with Kadis to include funding for the studies and necessary reforms in the ministry’s budget.

“Since the 2017 budget will likely not include funds for reform and streamlining, the 2018 budget should necessarily include these measures,” Michaelides said.

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