Education Minister Athena Michaelidou on Tuesday acknowledged “misunderstandings” with the private preschools association (Sipek) after representatives of the latter protested the state’s handing of the expansion of early childhood education outside parliament.

Members of Sipek expressed concerns about potential negative impacts on private preschools and kindergartens and the sustainability of these institutions, including the employment of their personnel.

Speaking after a House education committee meeting on early years education, Michaelidou said that “any misunderstandings that exist are now being resolved.”

She said the discussion made it apparent that their requests mainly concern the programme already being implemented.

Last year, Sipek charged that the law has caused a great deal of confusion to thousands of parents whose children attend private schools, kindergartens and infant care centres.

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

The demands of the private preschool owners concern the manner in which the state has determined to extend compulsory schooling for children from four-years-old and up, and fears they would lose their right to independent decision-making and autonomy.

“I want to remind that we [the current administration] did not initiate the debate,” Michaelidou said.

“Sipek raised issues around consultation and the right to earlier information. The current administration, however, found this specific programme ready, and, due to the timelines set by the European Commission, we need to implement it because it is part of Cyprus’ obligation in the Recovery and Resilience Plan.”

She urged that discussions in parliament be wrapped up as soon as possible so the programme can be implemented by the education ministry. She said the private kindergartens were a key partner.

When asked if parents will be able to choose where their child will attend pre-school, and if attendance at private kindergartens will be subsidised regardless of socio-economic criteria, the minister replied: “If it is at the compulsory education level, yes.”

Asked about the cost of the programme, Michaelidou said that it features a budget of around €130 million in total for a nine-year period, instead of the initially planned two or three.

“We need a longer period so that public finances can withstand it, and so that we, as the education ministry can control the situation with our facilities and capacities.”