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Our View: Education ministry’s new policies based on knee-jerk reactions

RUNNING public schools by knee-jerk reaction has become very fashionable. A couple of weeks ago, two boys were abducted from a primary school by a man so this week the government announced measures for improving security at schools. The Council of Ministers decided that fences would be placed around all schools and that an intercom would be installed at the entrance; cards would be issued to authorised people to enter during school hours while primary schools and kindergartens would have security guards between 7am and 8am.

There was one abduction in 50 years and there might not be another in the next 50, but the government felt obliged to take measures after the public furore. The measures would cost €10 million, which would be added to the money the government failed to save after its unsuccessful attempt at reducing the free hours of school teachers. The government may have spent all summer squabbling with teaching unions in order to save €10m, which it will not, and this week decided to spend another €10 million because there was an outcry about a one-off incident.

It was the exact same reaction that followed the tragic death of a 10-year-old boy in a playground at a Larnaca district school. It was a terrible one-off event, but immediately there were calls to have a full-time nurse at every public school and to put soft flooring in school playgrounds. The teaching unions made a big issue out of safety at schools, supported by parents associations, and demanded it was discussed with the ministry as a matter of priority. Suddenly they decided schools were unsafe, and they wanted this to become the main subject of their negotiations with the education ministry, as if it were a union issue. But were schools unsafe, considering there had been no other fatal accident in a playground in the past 50 years?

On Wednesday a bigger safety issue for public schools was revealed – most schools had no fire safety certification while many did not even have big enough gates for a fire engine to pass through. Measure for dealing with fires are of much greater urgency than soft flooring, full-time nurses and security guards, but there has never been a big fire at a school so nobody has brought up the issue. Of course, fire safety measures should have been a priority for the education ministry and a programme introduced for their introduction at all schools. But there has been no fire at a school, fortunately, so nobody is demanding action.

How much more reassuring it would have been if the government had a plan for safety measures at schools and their introduction did not depend on public demand.

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