JUST a few days after the teaching unions reached an agreement with the government that paved the way for negotiations, another major dispute has surfaced in public education. This time the confederation of parents’ associations of secondary schools is resisting the education ministry’s policy to introduce four-monthly exams from this school year. The confederation was meeting on Wednesday to decide how it would fight the ministry’s plan which was announced some 10 months ago.
Fortunately, strike action is not an option for the parents. We just cannot see them threatening to stop their children going to school until the government scraps its plan, nor is it likely that they would instruct them not to do their homework as a protest measure. In Cyprus’ deeply rooted union mentality nothing can be ruled out, but it is absurd enough that after the self-serving teachers we now have the parents’ confederation behaving like a union, wanting to dictate the state’s education policies.
They might have no expertise in educational matters, but this is not necessary. As long as people are organised into some kind of pressure group, they demand and are granted a say, even on issues that they know little about. Predictably the campaign against the twice-yearly exams at public secondary schools was kicked off by the teaching unions, which held a referendum among its members in February when 76 per cent voted against the ministry plan.
A month later, the co-ordinating committee of secondary students collected 5,000 signatures in a petition against these exams and delivered it to the education ministry permanent secretary. Even teenagers have an opinion on the matter and feel they are entitled to be heard and taken seriously because Cyprus is run by people organised into unions. Society might think they are not mature enough to vote, but it still gives them the right to have a say on education policy.
This is education policy by public demand, and the tragedy is that nobody thinks there is anything wrong with this practice. While everyone has the right to express an opinion in a democracy, there is nothing democratic about organised groups dictating government policy, because this verges on mob rule. Unfortunately, our weak politicians, in their unscrupulous hunt for votes invariably support these organised groups, giving them legitimacy. As a result, the confederation of parents’ associations during the recent teaching dispute came up with its own proposals for a compromise.
And now the confederation has joined forces with the teachers and kids to stop four-monthly exams, which the education ministry decided would best serve students. What is worse, political parties are already talking about putting off the introduction of the twice-yearly exams for a year, not because they believe this is a bad educational decision, but in order to keep the parents and teachers happy.