It was good to see the House education committee starting a debate about public school opening hours and plans for all-day schools. This is an initiative of the committee chairman, Diko deputy Pavlos Mylonas, who started the debate going by proposing an 8am start for primary schools and 8.30am for secondary schools. He also suggested teaching periods be extended from 45 to 50 minutes as well as longer breaks.
Mylonas was not dogmatic about his proposals, saying the advice of education experts would also be sought to ensure changes would be in the best interest of the children. Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said on Thursday he saw the proposals positively and would welcome the start of a debate. There were already many all-day primary schools and a pilot all-day secondary school in operation, said Prodromou, while the idea of later opening was on the agenda.
The fact that an opposition party deputy has come with the idea for a change in the operation of public schools is a positive development. For an issue such as this, which is not ideological, there should be cooperation between the government and opposition parties because it is the only effective way of changing things. Far too often, parties oppose government bills and proposals with the sole purpose of making things difficult for the government and not because they have anything better to suggest.
This knee-jerk opposition suits the unions which can always rely on parties to back them over any dispute with the government, even when the government is in the right. Public sector unions are very skillful in using opposition parties, either to impose their positions on the government or simply to block any change they do not approve of. Teaching unions that oppose change as a matter of policy are particularly good at this.
A level of unity between opposition parties and the government on specific issues could be very constructive as it would limit the power of public sector unions which have proved to be the biggest obstacles to change and progress, in public education, health, and state services. Perhaps cooperation on school opening hours could be the start of a more constructive relationship between the government and some opposition parties as this would help passing important bills without amending them to levels of ineffectiveness and dysfunction.
Mylonas’ proposal could be a test case, even though, the change would affect so many different sections of society – from parents to teachers and from bus drivers employers – it could be very difficult to find a workable compromise.