Financial Mirror (Cyprus)
A hair-raising experience in education
It was good to see the government confusing itself as the kids returned to school and lost the plot as another predictable academic year got underway.
The government cannot cover itself in glory over the success story of the education system because it is a malfunctioning behemoth primed for reform.
During the turmoil of COVID, it dawned on the administration that it could not cope with the digital era when it was needed most, as classes were conducted online under a regime of lockdowns and social distancing.
Apart from the lack of computers in the classroom and the technology skill sets to manage them, the curriculum is also crumbling under outdated content.
There was a big fanfare for the government’s IT strategy in schools this week, although it needed a push from the EU to get the digital ball rolling.
Cyprus is usually behind the learning curve when it comes to international metrics in maths and science, while its teaching methods are the equivalent of bringing a typewriter to a hackathon.
If you want to track how well schools perform across the country, you won’t get much change from the Education Ministry.
Teacher performance and a school’s academic achievements are kept under tighter wraps than the Kremlin’s nuclear codes.
Even a Navy Sales Black Ops couldn’t uncover what goes on behind the school gates.
And the jury is still out on whether the nation’s children are getting a first-class free education.
Maybe the popularity of private tuition tells its own story. Certainly, there are well-run and successful schools that produce well-rounded adults, but if we take that as a given, we must also accept that some institutions are failing.
But due to a lack of transparency, there is no way of knowing where our schools are falling short or what the government is doing about it.
There is no public engagement by the government on what our education should look like but a rather arrogant ‘we know best’ attitude.
Parents are treated like rowdy rabble of moaners unless they come from wealthy families who pay their way out of trouble.
Are schools adapting to a changing job market, and is the state recruiting the best teachers to set standards and lead a progressive, more inclusive education system?
It may be of some consolation that nobody in government is losing sleep over these questions as they presume the situation will correct itself if it is ignored long enough.
Things couldn’t be worse than how the ministry handled the mass expulsion debacle at a Larnaca high school where the headteacher had a meltdown over ‘inappropriate haircuts’.
The minister wanted to dismiss it as ‘fake news’ — another page out of the Kremlin playbook – even while fuming parents were posting the evidence on social media.
Kids were being sent home from school for having short hair – the same style they would get in the army when called for national service.
Short hair during the hot weather seems like a sensible idea, but for this Dickensian outpost, it was an affront to the moral standards and ethos of the school.
I only hope the head teacher shows as much zeal in preventing bullying or racism in the classroom.
Oh wait, this is the same person who denied a Syrian boy his school leaving certificate based on his appearance and sent a black girl home for wearing braids.
There seems to be a pattern developing here.
But the ministry was more concerned with damage limitation and trying to argue that the kids weren’t expelled; they were just given a warning – another half-truth.
The official line from the Education Ministry was rather fuzzy and ill-conceived because the minister didn’t want to believe it.
Shouldn’t the message have been that expelling 50 kids on the first day of school was overzealous, unnecessary and counterproductive?
And what about the renegade headteacher – who should be named and shamed but wasn’t? Are these the kind of people who should be running our schools? You can bet your last history book; more are roaming the classroom.
Only more public scrutiny and parental pressure will make the government sit up and take action to improve teaching standards, the school experience and academic attainment.
If we can’t get the education system right, then forget about everything else.