Increasing spending on education underlines the state’s commitment to improving this area, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou asserted Monday, even as the opposition called the situation in public schools “extremely problematic”.
Lawmakers were reviewing the ministry’s budget for fiscal year 2022, tallying at €1.239 billion – considerably larger than even the health ministry’s balance sheet of €1.050 billion.
Of the proposed expenditures, just a little over €1 billion concern recurrent expenses, while €212 million are earmarked for development projects. Development expenses, in particular, are 11 per cent higher compared to the 2021 budget.
For 2022, payroll alone accounts for €768 million.
In remarks following the budget discussion, the minister spoke of ongoing reforms in the school system designed to improve the quality of – but also access to – education.
He said the results of efforts are already showing, as demonstrated in the performance of Cypriot schoolchildren in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss), an international assessment of achievement in mathematics and science.
“But the picture is a mixed one, because at the same time the results from other assessments, such as the pancyprian exams, shows us that we need to exert more effort, particularly in the teaching of the Greek language.”
Prodromou said it was worrying that, year in year out, about one-fifth of pupils fail the Greek exam.
“This is not acceptable, since it does not only concern knowledge of Greek, but also concerns the intellectual development of our youngsters, a precondition for any other learning.”
The minister talked up the digital transformation drive in education – essentially the installation and rollout of an e-governance system where all financial and administrative transactions are done electronically, while information for teachers and parents will likewise go digital.
The ministry also has big plans to create hundreds of new classrooms across the country.
Some €97 million spent on these reforms and projects will come through Cyprus’ national recovery and resilience plan.
But Prodromou’s sales pitch left main opposition party Akel unimpressed.
“Unfortunately, and the responsibility lies with the government, in the past few years the education system has been moving backwards,” Akel MP Christos Christofides said in a statement later.
“It is the result of the ministry’s leadership being permeated by an autocratic, conservative mindset, unable to take education into the modern era,” he added.
Christofides criticised the administration’s policy in changing the employment status of thousands of educators, turning them into contract workers. Although a court decision found that these individuals should be deemed full-time employees, he said, the government still refuses to reinstate them to their prior status.
“And this while at the same time, and out of the blue they [the government] had no problem making four of the president’s associates and relatives into civil servants.”
Akel said also that education has become too focused on exams, while violence and delinquency are on the rise.
“In short, the overall situation in our education system is extremely problematic.”