Cyprus Mail

Minister brands law over pre-school education unconstitutional

The law governing the change in age children start preschool was on Monday branded “unconstitutional and virtually impracticable” by Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou.

He said the state is obliged to provide free education while a ban on private schools offering preschool education should not be put into effect. There is a risk, he said, that children will not be able to find a place in a public preschool.

After an intense debate, the House last week approved the bill, rejecting President Nicos Anastasiades’ objections that it appeared to ban citizens from the opportunity to register their child in a private nursery if they wish. Additionally, he said the law creates “immense difficulties” in its implementation to offer free pre-primary education, noting it puts at risk the disbursement of €12 million from the Recovery and Resilience Plan.

Prodromou said on Sunday the president has the option of referring the law to the Supreme Court.

He would discuss the matter with Anastasiades in the coming days, noting that any affected citizen can go to court to overturn the legislation that prohibits the attendance of four-and-a-half-to-six-year-olds in private pre-primary schools.

The law means compulsory preschool will start for children aged four years, rather than the current four years and eight months. This change will be implemented over the coming three school years.

During the 2023-2026 school years, parents have the option to enrol their child in public, community or private pre-schools and from 2026-2027 only in public preschools.

The revamp of pre-school education has also caused a storm among those in the pre-primary sector.

Confusion has arisen over how exactly this plan will be implemented, with some unions proposing that new classrooms should be built, even if these are prefab, while others are suggesting that the private preschools should be taken over by the state.

Head of primary school teachers union Poed, Myria Vassiliou on Monday said the union’s unchanging position is that every child should have the right to free public education, and that the state has an obligation to provide this.

Vassiliou added that the proposed changes to the structure of preschool education have been underway since 2019 and that the state had failed to make appropriate provisions during the intervening years, which is what has landed all concerned in this unworkable situation.

Head of the private preschools association Laura Irakleous said the concept of only allowing state preschools to operate was unthinkable, as was the state absorbing private pre-schools, which have been providing services for 50 years.

Irakleous said parents should retain the right to send their child to whichever school they wish. The state would pay part of the child’s tuition, and this was not a direct sponsorship of a private institution by the state.

Chairman of the House Education Committee Pavlos Mylonas suggested on Monday the right course of action may be to freeze the situation and gradually improve the capacity of the state to meet the demand for free pre-school services.

Even if the state were to ‘adopt’ private preschools, this would not increase capacity, he noted, adding that teachers would need to be shuffled around and possibly let go, in accordance with state hiring processes and criteria.

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