Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Teachers’ defence of school holiday highlights tragic standards

Cyprus has the smallest class sizes in Europe

ALL ASPECTS of life in this country are a big mess, but the one in which we have broken every record is public education. If anyone doubts this, just take a look at the results of university entrance exams which get worse every year.

I write this because I want to show that the quality of our teachers, which we have had an opportunity to admire once again in the past week in the row over the abolition of an idiotic school holiday, is not unrelated to the poor results. The quality of our teachers has a lot to do with the fact that public schools have been reduced to becoming hotbeds for illiterates and battlegrounds for rival teen gangs.

The arguments used by the primary and secondary teachers to defend their opposition to the House education committee’s suggestion of scrapping of a school holiday, observed, ironically, to mark what is known as the ‘day of letters’, were infuriating. On the ‘day of letters’ on January 30, schools –  the very place children are supposed to receive their learning – are closed. Only in this weird country could there be such a bizarre going-on. Perverse as it may sound nobody can doubt that it is perfectly in tune with our general mentality.

“The suggestion constitutes a populist approach to the matter,” said the president of secondary teachers’ union Oelmek, Demetris Taliadoros. “The state bestowed the holiday to stress the significance the day has for our education system.”

The union chief took the opportunity to tell us that another absurd school holiday to mark the name day of the archbishop was also justified. “Every archbishop played a significant role, as an institution, and his name day was considered important, which is why the holiday is observed.”

By the same reasoning, schools should close on the name day of other institutions, such as the president of the Republic, the president of the House, the attorney-general and his son. In this way, there would be more days of laziness for Taliadoros and his colleagues who under normal circumstances should have felt ashamed of defending in such a ludicrous way the most irrational things. In other countries, teachers are pioneers in fighting backwardness and irrationality. Here, they are the custodians.

As I mentioned above, the quality of our teachers is not unrelated to the poor performance of our schools. When one hears the head of the teachers’ union praising this anachronistic mentality that ensures schools are closed for the most trivial reasons, we should not wonder why public school standards are so poor. When teachers start the school year by announcing weekly work stoppages to push their demands for hiring more teachers at schools so that they can work even fewer hours we should not be surprised to see the appalling results of their students.

We have reached the point of having the smallest number of students per class in Europe even as teachers demand the hiring of more teachers. In my time, there were 45 to 50 students in every class but the standard of our education was much higher. Nowadays teachers have 18 to 22 kids per class but still manage to produce illiterates that cannot write their name correctly.

Last year, in the national exams the average mark in Greek broke all past records, falling to 7.97 (out of 20). Some 74.76 per cent of students failed to get a pass-mark while in history the pass rate was 56.47 per cent. In Greek, incredibly, a quarter of the students received a mark below five out of 20.

This is the tragic state of our education. And our teachers, instead of feeling ashamed of their achievements, are doing everything they can to close schools, either through strikes or bizarre holidays so they can have more time to laze around.

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