By Evie Andreou
As teachers announced they would go on a protracted strike in September after the education minister refused to give in to their demands, the audit office on Thursday issued a statement slamming their sense of entitlement.
“It is obvious that the so-called defenders of the public school, prioritise little work and increased benefits,” the audit office said. It added that although it fully respected the vocation of educators, it finds unacceptable the effort of some teachers to present themselves as “a superior population group with abilities and qualities no one else has.”
The audit office called for more drastic measures from the government on state education if Cyprus wanted to reverse international assessments that show poor results despite the high cost of public education.
In its statement, the audit office said that the recent measures proposed by the government as regards streamlining the use of teachers in state schools were not enough and called for more drastic measures to put an end to abnormalities on the basis of best European practices.
This, it said, would ensure that the increased spending on education would lead to satisfactory performance results from pupils, “contrary to what is happening today where international ratings show poorer results compared to the high costs.”
The announcement came after a war of words between teaching unions and Auditor-general, Odysseas Michaelides on the matter.
The measures – that angered teaching unions who said they would strike in September when schools open – concern abolishing exceptions from teaching for extracurricular activities. The government also put an end to the reduction in teaching hours according to length of service.
“The first references on unjustified exceptions from teaching time were made by the audit office in 2004,” the statement said, while the service had mentioned for the first time the “abnormality” of reducing teaching time based on seniority in its annual report of 2011.
At the time, it said, the secondary education teachers’ union Oelmek, had welcomed that report by stating that it had revealed “mismanagement and scattering of public money.”
Reducing teaching time of senior educators by four in primary education and six in secondary, it said, “is in contrast with European best practises and must stop.”
According to the 2013 Eurydice report, which concerns descriptions of national education systems – reduction of the workload of educators is not a widespread practice in Europe, the audit office said. “Only nine countries reduce the workload of educators according to their years of service and/or age,” it said, adding that even in those countries the reduction of teacher workload is much less compared to Cyprus.
In Germany, it said, teachers see a teaching hour less once they reach 55 years and another at 60. A similar system applies in Portugal, it said, where teaching hours are being gradually reduced when a teacher turns 50. Other countries that apply this practice are Greece, France, Austria, Romania, Malta and Luxembourg.
It added that the cabinet was right in adopting those measures and that it does not agree at all with the “unacceptable proposals” of teaching unions.