About this time every year, government ministers go before the House finance committee to discuss their ministry’s respective budget for the following year. They are always at pains to explain to deputies that their ministry’s budget would be higher next year as if this is the only indication of whether the ministry was performing its duties well.
Never during these sessions, has a minister been heard boasting that their ministry had made savings and would operate with a smaller budget the next year. Economic prudence is shunned by the political parties, for which the only test of good government is the growth of its annual expenditure regardless of whether the state can afford this.
We have been witnessing this phenomenon in the last few days. On Monday, education minister Prodromos Prodromou told the House finance committee that the ministry’s primary expenditure would increase by 5.2 per cent, to a little over a billion euro while development expenditure would increase by 11.2 per cent compared to this year to €212.7m.
This high expenditure on education mainly goes on teachers’ salaries – 77 per cent of the primary expenditure – while two thirds of the development budget go to the universities. Only €6.6m of the development budget was allocated for digital transformation, which seems a tiny amount considering the huge problems faced at public schools with distance learning, not to mention government promises about digitalisation.
While all this money is being spent on education, the ministry has consistently failed to get its priorities right. On Thursday public school biology teachers protested outside the ministry because their long-standing demand for having biology lessons in labs has never been met. The absence of lab work at public schools is nothing new, despite the fact that the biology curriculum includes a large number of lab exercises.
It is incredible that for all these years education ministry officials have never bothered to allocate any money from the ever-growing budget, for setting up science labs in public schools, which would improve learning of science subjects. We may have a steadily increasing budget for education, but a very small part of this seems to be allocated to improving learning and the learning experience of students.
In international tests, Cyprus students do very badly in science, but none of the education ministry mandarins have seen the link of this with the absence of labs from schools. So when the education minister of the day boasts that the ministry’s budget will be bigger next year, it would be wrong to expect the any of the increased expenditure would be used to improve learning and raise education standards.