WHILE the solidarity shown to their fellow student for being told to go home and remove her headscarf by the school headmaster was commendable, the rowdy behaviour and abusive chanting by some students was too much. Nothing justified this type of behaviour inside the school grounds where a level of decorum is necessary. Yet the film clips of events showed youths acting like a mob which is not something that should be condoned.
Yet the public uproar that followed reports that a Muslim girl from Syria was ordered by the headmaster of a Nicosia secondary school to remove her headscarf or go home overshadowed the aggressive behaviour of the teenagers that has no place in any school. The immediate reaction to the incident by the Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris who appeared on state radio the next morning and said he was shocked by what had happened did not help, as he gave the impression that the students were correct to act in the way they did.
Hambiaouris was probably more concerned with calming the situation down after the public uproar, but on another level he was giving in to mob rule. His decision to transfer the headmaster to another post, effective on Monday, may have been the right thing to do under the circumstances, but it could have been seen as yet another concession to rowdy schoolkids. The teenagers, however, felt the minister had not done enough, arguing that the headmaster should have been ‘punished’.
“With its hypocritical stance and headmaster’s non-punishment, the ministry gives licence to racist behaviour,” said the secondary students’ organisation Psem. This is to be expected in a country that gives a big say on how education should be run to everyone, including teenage students. Psem is invited to discussions with the minister and at the House education committee to express its views on serious educational issues, so why not demand the punishment of a headmaster as well.
This is part of a wider problem in public education which successive government surrendered to the so-called stakeholders. Teaching unions were effectively calling the shots in education, but now parents’ associations have got in on the act, as have teenage students. The ministry is obliged to consult these groups even over how often exams should be held. On Monday the parents’ association at a Larnaca secondary school had threatened not to allow their children to attend classes in protest against the poor facilities! After the intervention of the education ministry they gave the ministry until the end of the month to fix things. Meanwhile, in a Paphos school, the parents’ association demanded that the head teacher was transferred because of alleged incompetence.
We have to ask, who is running public education? It is not the education ministry whose primary role nowadays is to pander to teachers, parents and teenage students.