One of those meetings that is called for publicity reasons was held at the education ministry on Tuesday so that the two dozen participants could supposedly discuss the issue of poor safety conditions in primary schools. Safety at public primary schools has become a big issue in the last few weeks after an accident which led to the tragic death of a 10-year-old schoolboy sparked angry exchanges between teaching unions and the government.
Suddenly, showing a complete lack of perspective, everyone was claiming that safety conditions at schools were poor and demanding measures by the government. The facts do not support these claims as this was the first fatal accident at a public school in decades, and the boy probably would not have lost his life if doctors at Larnaca Hospital had made the correct diagnosis of his head injury, caused by a fall while playing basketball. The reality is that such a tragic accident might happen at a school once every 40 or 50 years and it is no justification to appoint a full-time nurse at every school as some people had been demanding.
Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris put things in perspective, telling journalists after Tuesday’s meeting that no matter how many measures were taken, accidents would still happen. He did not deny there were some problems at schools but these did not pose a risk to children. This was an injection of some much-needed common sense in a debate marked by alarmism and hyperbole, much of it generated by the primary teachers’ union Poed trying to shift attention away from its inappropriate reaction to the police questioning of the teacher who was supervising the schoolchildren when the accident occurred.
The union also used the ‘priority’ of school safety as an excuse for avoiding engaging in the scheduled dialogue with the education ministry regarding the introduction of an evaluation system for teachers that it objects to. Union officials said on Tuesday the evaluation system could be discussed with the ministry at a later date after the much more important issue of safety conditions at schools was addressed.
That Tuesday’s meeting was a publicity exercise was supported by its unanimous decisions, which included the establishment of a special committee for health and safety at schools that would set short and long-term objectives. The meeting also confirmed that schools were safe and there was no cause for concern, while all participants agreed to lower the tone of their public exchanges and focus on cooperation for the good of students.
Was a meeting really necessary? Probably not, but the public had to be reassured that something was done about a non-existent issue blown out of all proportion.