Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou’s unexpected absence on Friday from a meeting with the House education committee drew strong reactions from MPs, who were expecting to discuss the exams scheduled every four months due to be introduced for final year high school students this academic year.

The committee sought an urgent meeting with Prodromou earlier this week to address growing concerns over the issue, and the meeting was set for noon on Friday.

However, half an hour later they were reportedly informed that the minister would not be attending, without any further explanation.

MPs accused Prodromou of “contempt of Parliament” and for offending the committee, saying that unless something very serious had happened, his absence was completely unjustified.

Students in the first two years of state lyceums now take exams every four months following a raft of changes which were approved in early 2019 and led to bitter divisions since then.

The same procedures were due to be introduced this year for third year lyceum students, but all parties except for Disy asked for this to be pushed back another year, arguing that the pandemic has negatively impacted teaching and learning and would make frequent exams an extra stress factor.

Expressing his disdain for Prodromou’s absence, committee chairman Pavlos Mylonas said after Friday’s meeting that pupils should start preparing for exams and assume they will be going ahead after all.

He added that the committee will be “ruthless” against teachers who go against instruction and give their pupils more than one test, apart from the exams, and urged parents to report such incidents.

Disy MPs supported the implementation of the exams, with George Karoullas saying that they should be held as normal as pandemic conditions have now changed, and Prodromos Alambritis saying that there is no more time for delays and uncertainty.

Main opposition Akel expressed strong distaste for Prodromou’s absence, which Christos Christofides said the party will not let go unnoticed as it constitutes an “insult”. For his part, Christos Christofias said that “a whole generation will pay for the ministry’s obstinacy”.

Edek MP Andreas Apostolou said the party will take a position on the absence of the minister when informed of the reasons for his non-attendance.

Prodromou’s absence was “politically wrong,” Dipa’s Alekos Tryfonides said, expressing the hope it would not be repeated, calling for the exams to be postponed.

The ministry argued that it has made some modifications to ensure pupils would be able to cope during the exams, which are “simply a planned test that will allow teachers to evaluate pupils’ progress”.

Teaching periods have been extended from 155 to 182 days to allow for gaps to be covered, and material to be taught reduced.

Education officials and organisation representatives expressed mixed opinions on the matter, with most positive about the exams.

Secondary education director Kyprianos Louis and director of secondary technical education Elias Markadjis supported the exams, saying they do not express political positions, but are just officials who express positions based on instructions.

Technical school teachers union Oltek was also in favour of the exams but said that there may not be enough time to implement such a big change this year.

Oelmek’s Costas Hadjisavas said that there are still concerns about some students’ progress, asking for answers in the coming days to avoid perpetuating the issue.

Organised parents representative Charalambos Dionysiou said pupils and their parents are experiencing “stress and panic,” asking for exams to be postponed for next year.

Much like the parents, student union Psem said they were worried about the exams moving forward because that could bring them too close to the Pancyprian exams.

Later Friday, a statement from the ministry said Prodromou was unable to attend the meeting due to his participation in the council of ministers. The ministry was represented at parliament, just not by the minister, it said.

“It is a common practice not to schedule the minister’s presence in meetings of parliamentary committees during the days when there is a meeting of the council of ministers and for this reason there was no arrangement for the minister to attend parliament today,” it added.