In the end the teaching unions were vindicated – the biggest problem facing public education is not falling standards, low literacy, poor teaching, anti-social behaviour, but the lack of air-conditioning units in classrooms. Ever since last week’s high temperatures this has been a big issue of public debate, with the primary teachers’ union chief claiming children were feeling dizzy and suffering nose bleeds.

This week the confederation of parents’ associations took the cue, threatening ‘dynamic measures’ if the ACs were not immediately installed in all classrooms. The matter has been turned into a crisis, even though the schools were closing for summer and gymnasiums had closed before the arrival of the heatwave. As a gesture, the education ministry closed primary and pre-primary schools a couple of hours earlier on Friday because temperatures were forecasted to hit 45 degrees.

On Thursday, meanwhile, it was reported that a student walked out of the hall midway through the university entrance exams she was sitting because of the intolerable heat; she said there was no AC unit or fan in the hall. The matter was reported by the parents to the education ministry as well as the media. How this will be handled by the ministry we do not know, but in this regard the state is in the wrong. Halls in which exams are sat, especially for university entry, must be air-conditioned, because students need to be comfortable to concentrate on their paper. These halls should have been the AC priority for the government.

It transpired during the public exchanges, however, that although AC units had been bought for several schools they could not be operated because of the low capacity of the electricity supply of the buildings. For the AC units to work, electricity supply installations needed to be upgraded. This further complicated the matter as well as increasing the cost and time needed for unit that had been bought to work. To help students sitting university entrance exams, the ministry could have arranged for these to take place in several large, air-conditioned auditoriums in each district, but perhaps it would have required too much planning.

As regards the ‘AC units for all classrooms’ demand, the Education Minister Athena Michaelidou repeated that it would be satisfied within the next three years. Even this might be over-optimistic, bearing in mind that the electricity supply load would have to be increased at many schools and safety requirements met before units were installed and worked. There are a lot of schools, a lot of classrooms in each school and a limited number of technicians to do the work. Parents should recognise this instead of demanding, like the teachers, immediate satisfaction of their demand.

Schools, after all, are closed during the hottest period of the year and the problem of very high temperatures parents and teachers complain about lasts for a couple of weeks in June and about three weeks in September. This is probably why governments never treated the installation of ACs in all classrooms as a priority. Not only would this involve a big initial outlay, but it would also increase every school’s electricity bill substantially. But if the people want AC units in every school classroom rather than better teaching standards, the taxpayer will pick up the bill.