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Our View: State should accept Archbishop’s offer to axe religious school holidays

PERHAPS the motives of Archbishop Chrysostomos were vengeful – embarrassing protesting teachers – in suggesting the abolition of five religious holidays from the public school calendar, but this is beside the point. He has offered an opportunity to re-examine – and hopefully do away with – the antiquated practice of closing schools on days considered of religious significance and this should be seized. It is unheard for schools, in a modern secular society to close on a saint’s name-day.

It does not matter that the issue was raised as a result of a squabble between the teaching unions and the Archbishop who started it all by publicly expressing surprise at teachers’ work-shyness. Offended by his remarks, teachers attacked him on social media and demanded that schools should not close on Saint Chrysostomos day, as a mark of respect to the Archbishop. He fully agreed with their idea and said so. The government, which has the power to make the change, ignored it.

On Tuesday it was reported that the Archbishop wrote to the education minister proposing the scrapping of an additional four school holidays that marked religious days. His reasoning was that “few, if any educators take advantage of school holidays for the purpose for they were established,” explaining that “neither they nor their students use the time for religious worship on those days.” These days were just used as holidays, Chrysostomos, correctly concluded.

The government could use the Church’s approval to abolish these holidays so that only religious holidays observed by the state applied to schools. It is perverse that a supposedly secular state needs the approval of the Church to do away with religious holidays at public schools but this, unfortunately, is how things operate here. As the Archbishop has given his consent, regardless of his reasons, the education ministry has an obligation to proceed with the abolition of these holidays. It would be a small step in the direction of cutting the links between public education and the Church.

Teaching union bosses, predictably, did not embrace the proposal, because teachers could not possibly give up five holidays. They were prepared to give up one – Saint Chrysostomos Day – to spite the Archbishop, but another four was too much. “There are regulations in operation,” said one union boss, explaining that abolishing holidays had to go through a procedure. On Wednesday the theology teachers association of the secondary education union Oelmek, said that they were against any attempts “either to restrict, switch or abolish any of the four legally-established religious days as school holidays”. In other words, the unions had to give their approval, which was not going to happen any time soon.

The teachers may claim they want public schools with secular character, but not if this will mean working five extra days per year. Any attempt by the educations ministry to implement the Archbishop’s proposal would just lead to more strike threats by the work-shy teachers.

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