Educational levels continue to be connected to the class structure of society. Social inequalities fuel educational exclusions or inequalities in educational levels, and exclusions or inequalities exacerbate social inequalities. The situation in Cyprus, as well as across the whole of Europe, has deteriorated because of the neoliberal onslaught. Particularly in the current neoliberal conditions, the systematic use of the educational system by the ruling class to intensify the perpetuation of the system and reinforce its position in society is intensifying with all that this entails: educational inequalities, downgrading of young people’s all-round education, the transition from education to training.
In the five years under review the main characteristic of developments in our country’s Education is the all-out attack launched by the Anastasiades – DISY government against the public school system and the organized attempt to impose a mixture of neoliberal and conservative measures in schools. The climax of the crisis that erupted in Education in the summer of 2018 was provoked by the government’s principal goal of undermining the public school system. The unilateral measures taken by the government ruling forces against teachers were eventually taken back after the victory of the teachers with the support of school students and the most progressive section of society, but the government’s organized efforts with the mass media’s help to depreciate teachers and the attacks on the public school system remained.
A classic example of the government’s conservatism is the imposition of holding exams every four months in Secondary Education (the attempt to impose exams in elementary schools has also been temporarily withdrawn). The essence of the government ruling force’s insistence – and those who identify with them – is the introduction of the neoliberal principle of “measurability” in education as in businesses too. Emphasis is placed on memorisation and not on actual learning and acquiring skills. Hence the excessive focus on the evaluation of a school pupil.
Another example of conservatism is the new regulations on the operation of schools. Their philosophy leads to the creation of a school governed by an authoritarian logic, with pupils as mere pawns, which is in conflict with the vision of a free and democratic school. At the same time, the government ruling forces support the private at the expense of public education, while there are also the most extreme voices in the ruling DISY party who question the responsibility of the state to provide public and free education for all.
The Anastasiades – DISY government is imposing fragmentary changes on various levels of education, promoting the interests it serves and indeed often in an amateurish and hasty way. An overall plan is absent, as well as a central contemporary vision for Cyprus and our children that can respond to modern needs.
Higher and university education
The Party considers the contribution and development of universities in our country as important, where 3 public and 5 private universities and numerous colleges operate. Apart from its contribution to education, tertiary/higher education contributes to 5% of the GDP and employs a significant number of working people. We consider the implementation of neoliberal policies in public universities, promoted by the Anastasiades government and imposed by university authorities, are of particular concern. These policies seek to subordinate education to the logic of the market, the promotion of models of academic business entrepreneurship and the submission to specific interests that undermine academic freedom and autonomy.
Through these policies the attempt underway is to put public universities on the gradual path of privatization and their subordination to the logic of the so-called “free market” and depreciation of labour. The employment of a significant number of young academics on a precarious regime of flexible, dispensable, part-time and badly-paid employment, so-called “Specialist Scientists”, is also part of the practices pursued in line with this policy. Today already 1/3 of academic staff in both public and private universities is made up of working people employed under this employment status. That’s precisely why we support the just struggle waged by the trade union of the working people on precarious employment (Union of Doctoral Scientists Teaching and Research – DEDE) and their strike in 2018. Unemployment and precariousness are driving thousands of our young people to emigrate seeking to find a job abroad.
AKEL backs the academic community fighting for the further institutional strengthening of academic autonomy and freedom. It considers this public space of democracy, knowledge, reflection, creation and culture as extremely important. For that reason it is necessary to upgrade the quality of education, ensure academic freedom and dignified terms and conditions of employment, both in the private and public sectors, to enhance inter-university cooperation and research, safeguard the conditions and terms of functioning and work, and combat job insecurity.
Another key component of the Anastasiades-DISY government is its authoritarianism and cronyism/clientelism. Phenomena of racist behaviour, organized vote rigging in school student elections by the representative of the Ministry of Education (as noted by the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights – Ombudsman), postings according to party-allegiance criteria and “Aristotle program” type scandals, prove that many of the negative practices in the field of education start and are encouraged by the government ruling forces and the leadership of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth.
AKEL’s vision is the nurturing of young people with an all-round education and knowledge who will have the possibility to learn continuously, synthesize knowledge and acquire social, cultural and political sensitivities, to be active and beneficial to society and serve the values of freedom, democracy, patriotism, equality and social justice. Our vision is for a free and democratic school, far from any social exclusion and learning contrasts, for a school based on democracy and dialogue, where children are shown by teachers to discover knowledge, a school of joy, happiness, a school of the arts and creation.
To achieve these goals, we propose:
- Introduction of a compulsory single fourteen year education.
- Establishment of one more year of compulsory schooling before preschool education.
- Financial and pedagogical support, with the necessary infrastructure for Public Schools. Substantial increase in the funding of School Boards and the upgrading of the logistic infrastructures of schools.
- Establishing a merit-based system for evaluating educationalists and their educational work, with the primary objective of empowering our teachers so that they can offer better services.
- Modernization and expansion of the single and optional all-day school.
- Upgrading and supporting a unified special education so that no child with disabilities is victimized in the education system (AKEL has submitted a comprehensive proposal to the Ministry of Education and Science on this issue).
- Modernization and all-round reorganization of evening schools and evening technical schools (AKEL has submitted a comprehensive proposal to the Ministry of Education and Science).
- Creation of new technical schools especially in the periphery of cities, so that Technical Education can meet the increased demand. Support and upgrade of sports and Music Schools.
- Support and modernization of state training institutes.
- Enhancement and upgrading of state student welfare.
- Transformation of Cyprus into a regional education centre providing quality higher education, giving a leading role to public universities too.
- Ending the philosophy of reinforcing the exam-centred character of schools by abolishing the four-monthly exam system.
- Modernisation of student’s assessments with the aim of educating and cultivating critical thinking.
- Creation of a comprehensive support plan for children with delinquent behaviour at school, focusing on providing psychological, social and pedagogical support.
- Significant increase in the number of educational psychologists and counselors so that they can carry out with their work.