By Dr Panayiotis K Mavros
The permanent division of our country is in sight and it is our utmost duty to strive hard to unify Cyprus, turning it into a land of peace where both communities could co-operate for the general good. Therefore, we should be fully prepared to work with our compatriots, which presupposes a common language as a tool of communication.
When my book English FL: Modus operandi, Bilingual Education: Modus Vivendi was released in 1996, I naively believed that the problem of communication aiming at the cooperation of the two communities in Cyprus through a common language would sensitise our eminent politicians who, however, were not interested in raising that kind of issue, which, we feel inclined to confess, is considered to be a taboo subject due to pseudopatriotic complexes. The only reaction to our suggestion came from the well-known Greek language and identity “defenders”, who, unsurprisingly prejudiced, poorly informed and misinformed about bilingual education, attacked us relentlessly, accusing us of investing efforts into the task of leading the Greek language into extinction. Of course, their woeful, inaccurate and biased view is rejected without qualifications.
However, I still stick by my guns and I am fully convinced bilingual education is regarded as extremely relevant to a solution of the Cyprus problem, for this solution presupposes the mingling of the people of the island’s two communities. Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots need to come together, communicate and discuss their problems, aiming at establishing a truthful relationship based on mutual trust and understanding.
It is not feasible to expect the people of the two communities to create a climate of mutual trust without being able to talk to each other. Cyprus cannot be seen as a common home for all its citizens in the absence of a common language of communication.
Cyprus is a bilingual country in the sense that it has two languages, Greek and Turkish, however, only a tiny minority speaks both languages.
Bilingual education aims at enabling an individual to be bilingual. The ultimate aim is that children can be educated in both languages; it is not the same as simple linguistic fluency in the second language; it is an ability to acquire information in the second language that is sought. Of course, one of the languages is the mother tongue and the other one reflects the prevailing situation in a country. Therefore, since we cannot introduce Turkish / Greek as the second language at this early stage for obvious reasons, we suggest the English language as the common second language which would not only serve as the medium of communication but also as a window onto the outside world.
Let us hope that things will change for the better in the near future, allowing us to introduce bilingual education in our educational system so that the future citizens of our country will be able to communicate effectively to serve the interests of a united Cyprus republic within the European family. The tool of language communication is of paramount importance and in no way should it be undervalued.
Dr Panayiotis K Mavros is a former Secondary Education Inspector and Chief Education Officer, Ministry of Education and Culture