Public spending on education in Cyprus remains high but the effectiveness and efficiency of the education system are low and while a new teacher appointment system has begun, nothing has been done to reform teacher evaluations, a European Commission report said on Tuesday.
“At 6 per cent of GDP in 2016, public spending on education remains well above the EU average of 4.7 per cent,” the report on Education and Training in Europe said. “Measured as a share of total government expenditure, Cyprus spent 15.6 per cent on education in 2016, more than any other EU country.”
According to the report, teacher salaries in Cyprus – 73 per cent – were the biggest expenditure, as with most other countries.
However, “Cyprus has an education system with low effectiveness, since spending is high but educational outcomes (i.e. the knowledge, skills and abilities students attain as measured by the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), are low.”
The report also found the share of teachers aged 50 and over has been constantly growing to reach 40 per cent in 2016, up from 29 per cent three years before.
The main reason was the increased retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65 but the current appointment system was also a contributing factor.
“One aim of the reform of the teacher appointment system is to lower the age of first-time teachers by basing entry into the profession primarily on merit as opposed to waiting time,” the report said.
The rollout of the new teacher appointment system has begun but progress in teacher evaluation is slow.
Following the first entry exams in November 2017, the pool of successful candidates is large enough to fill positions planned for the next two years.
“The authorities considered the comparatively low overall success rate as proof of the credibility of the process, while disappointed candidates and other stakeholders expressed the opposite view,” according to the Commission.
Of the 5,020 people who sat the exams only 1,869 passed. The lowest success rate, 6.9 per cent, was in the Greek language specialisation.
“No policy measures were taken to reform teacher evaluation; stakeholder discussions – including with teachers’ unions have yet to commence.”
Early school leaving (ESL) rose to 8.6 per cent in 2017, one percentage point up from the previous year. “However, national data show that actual dropout rates remained low at 0.3 per cent in lower secondary and 0.2 per cent in upper secondary education,” the report said. “Despite the increase, Cyprus remains below the EU average (10.6 per cent) and the Europe 2020 national target of 10 per cent.”
The gender gap narrowed considerably, with ESL among boys decreasing by two percentage points to 9.4 per cent, while among girls, it increased from a very low base of 4.3 per cent in 2016, to 7.8 per cent last year.
Participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC) is stable. At 89.7 per cent in 2016, participation of four to six-year-olds in ECEC is unchanged from 2015.
In contrast, more children under three years-old were in formal childcare in 2016 than in 2015 — 24.8 per cent against 20.8 per cent.
However, the report said, this was still far below the EU average of 32.9 per cent for this age group.
To reduce the gap between the two education levels, the education ministry has started to upgrade the pre-school curriculum using success and adequacy indicators.
Exchange visits between public pre-primary and primary education schools continued and further expanded in the 2017-2018 school year.
The report said digital skills were improving but Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates remained rare.
“Half of the population reported to have at least basic digital skills vs 43 per cent in 2016. However, Cyprus’ share of STEM graduates – 9.8 per cent – remains the lowest in the EU.
The high number of social science graduates and comparatively few STEM graduates creates an imbalance.
One-third of bachelor’s students graduate with a degree in business, administration and law, higher than any other field of study in Cyprus and the highest in the EU.
The majority of bachelor’s graduates continue to master’s level, thus contributing to a participation rate at that level of almost 35% of all enrolled students.
Again, business, administration and law are the most attractive subjects at master’s level, chosen by 38.2 per cent (2016) of all graduates.
“A large share of master’s students also graduate in education studies, 30.8 per cent, irrespective of their bachelor’s degree subject — an indication of the attractiveness of the teaching profession.”
Subjects critical to innovation are underrepresented, the report said – at 2.4 per cent, the share of students obtaining a master’s in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics is the lowest in the EU. At 1.5 per cent, information and communications technology (ICT) is also among the lowest in the EU.
At PhD level, however, this trend is reversed, with the highest share of graduates having studied natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, 26.7 per cent, followed by engineering, manufacturing and construction, 18.9 per cent.
“While this data is positive, only three per cent of all students were enrolled in PhD programmes in 2014/2015 so STEM is a very small part of overall degrees. There is therefore clearly a need to increase the attractiveness of science and technology subjects.”