In the last few weeks we were given yet another depressing demonstration of how the teaching unions use the subservient deputies and political parties to prevent the government implementing its education policy. More worrying is that these politicians cannot see that they are undermining our democracy by acting as the executors of the of union bosses who have neither the constitutional nor the moral authority to decide state education policy. That is the sole responsibility of the government which has the popular mandate to govern.
Yet we saw deputies from all the political parties, including Disy, approve a bill on pre-primary education that is only seen in totalitarian, socialist states. The government’s original bill was amended by deputies of the House education committee making it compulsory for children over the age of four to attend public kindergartens. Under the amended law, parents would be deprived of the right to send their children to a private pre-primary school, which is preposterous in a free and democratic society. What were the deputies thinking?
Was this their way of keeping the teaching unions happy? When the education ministry submitted the original bill making pre-primary education mandatory for all children over four-and-a-half years old, there was a provision allowing the state to use private kindergartens as there was no capacity at public and community schools to take all of them. The ministry would pick up the bill for the children that had to go to the private kindergartens because of the lack of places at public ones.
This was considered unacceptable by the primary teachers’ union, Poed, which visited all the parties to tell them, quite misleadingly, that the arrangement would destroy public schools – this is their supposed concern although it is their monopolistic power they want to protect. Poed wanted the ministry to build new facilities and increase places at public pre-primary schools, immediately so that private schools were not used. While the parties agreed with the government on the use of private kindergartens for three years, from 2026, their law would force all children above 4 years of age to attend public kindergartens.
It is an absurdly repressive provision, which is unconstitutional. President Anastasiades was absolutely right to send the law back to the legislature, but the opposition parties voted against his referral at an urgently called plenum on December 30, sending it back to him. He can now send it to the supreme court for a ruling or sign it. If the law is referred to the supreme court Cyprus would lose the €12 million in EU funding for compulsory pre-primary schooling, but if it is signed, the president would be approving a blatant violation of the constitution.
Worse still, he would be sending the signal that unions are in charge of the country and that the president was prepared to knowingly violate the constitution to keep them on side. Anastasiades must send the law to the supreme court, even if it means losing the €12 million. It is a small cost to pay to protect democracy and rule of law and deal a blow to the tyranny of the teaching unions.