The Church of Cyprus on Wednesday described the recent demands by teachers as unacceptable and urged them to focus on children’s education, taking sides in a protracted spat with the education minister.
According to a statement from the archbishopric, the church, which had supported the country’s education in difficult times and continues to do so, could not remain silent before “the unacceptable goings-on in the education sector in recent times”.
“In light of the need to fight for national survival and our country’s liberation, the teaching organisations’ priorities should have been different and not short-sighted unionism,” the statement said.
It added that during times of financial distress, excessive demands were unacceptable and did not contribute towards the correct education of children.
Of demands for additional teaching hours at a cost of thousands of euros, the church asked what the point was for such a waste of taxpayer money on something that would have greater value if it were done voluntarily.
“We don’t have unlimited resources and when they are allocated for these reasons, how will education be upgraded?”
The church urged teacher unions to rise to the occasion and curb their demands for the time being and work with the ministry to overcome difficulties.
It also voiced its conviction that suggestions by some teachers that schools were wasting time on church services and other celebrations were uttered in the heat of the moment.
“National and religious education without religious fanaticism and nationalist outbursts is a necessary education element for people, especially us who are struggling for national survival.”
The Church of Cyprus has traditionally meddled in politics and education where it even has a say in the appointment of ministers.
Teachers unions are at loggerheads with the education minister over various demands and have threatened to keep schools closed in September.
Last week, secondary education teachers’ union Oelmek called Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris a liar and incapable of dialogue over the previous day’s cabinet approval of proposals to streamline the use of teachers, including abolishing exemptions from teaching hours for trade union activity and extra-curricular activity.
The cabinet also approved the discontinuation of the standard practice of reducing senior teachers’ teaching hours according to their years of service and age.
Hambiaouris said Wednesday he would be inviting the unions and parents to dialogue on the changes that must be made to the education system.
“We are willing to enter an open dialogue without withdrawing the cabinet decisions because we cannot do that, it’s not my remit,” he said.
The minister said the sides had two months to resolve the issue and should not allow the children to pay the price of failing to do so.