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Behind the faE*ade of private education.

Byline: Marios Vassiliou

AT A time when our public schools are tormented by fundamental and seemingly insurmountable problems, private education - for those who can afford it - must appear like an oasis in a desert.

Despite the genuine efforts of a handful of teachers and other educators, most of our public schools (particularly secondary schools) are fraught with frequent incidents of violence and juvenile delinquency; they are institutions where respect towards others is blatantly absent; they are obsolete and uninspiring and almost completely devoid of a culture and spirit of learning. They are, for the most part, ethnocentric in their outlook; they are contestable terrains where the most belligerent representatives of the ministry of education, teachersA[sup.3] trade unions, parentsA[sup.3] associations and student councils deal each other blows on issues that have very little to do with the actual problems of our educational institutions. Lastly, they are places where the education provided is inadequate, encouraging many teachers to spend their time marketing their illegal afternoon private institutes.

All the problems delineated above should come as a surprise to no one. A state educational system that insists on - or may be bullied into - maintaining a system where teachers are selected based on the date they submitted their degree and not on their academic and educational credentials could indeed fare even worse.

Choosing a school for our children is indeed a tough choice nowadays. For parents who cannot afford private education, the situation is less complicated. They have to make the best of their childrenA[sup.3]s experiences in the school that is near them and, despite all of the above, for the lucky ones those experiences can be very positive indeed.

For those who can afford private education though, private schools appear as sanctuaries. Although they have to pay - and pay handsomely - they can at least rest assured that their children will receive the best education possible. They are places where multiculturalism, religious tolerance - very few acknowledge the problem with using this term - and respect towards others, are part and parcel of their education. They are, ultimately, places where academic success is ensured.

Is this an objective and truthful depiction of either public or private schools though? I donA[sup.3]t think it an exaggeration to say that while most public schools are indeed infested with the problems delineated above, this does not mean that there are no exceptions of whole schools or of certain educators and administrators who are all exemplary in their roles.

And how about private schools? I am most hesitant to describe them as the sanctuaries of tolerance and academic excellence that they claim themselves to be. A few examples will suffice. It is the rule that when teachers who are employed in private schools are notified by the government that their turn has come - doesnA[sup.3]t that sound awful? - to be appointed to the state sector, they invariably leave their position in the private school to go to a public school, possibly located in another city or in the rural areas. At the private school they have simply been biding their time.

But why would these teachers unfailingly choose to abandon their post in a private school which supposedly offers all of the benefits discussed above to go to a public school that is burdened by so many fundamental problems? The answer is simple: job security. Despite the large amounts that private school parents have to pay for tuition and fees, the public schools packages are significantly more appealing to teachers.

Now, if I were a parent, I would be quite perturbed at the high rate of turnover of teachers in some private schools - I do not refer to all private schools for there are a few exceptions. If I were a parent paying for my childA[sup.3]s education I would certainly want, demand rather, that the teachers who teach my children are content with their working conditions. Moreover, I would not want my child to have to adjust to new teachersA[sup.3] styles, methods and demands every year because teachers are unhappy with their working conditions and opt to go elsewhere. It is sad, but true, that teachers in most private schools are exploited, overworked and confronted with ongoing false promises.

But what is most tragic and unfair is that quite often they are aware that they are being treated differently from their British colleagues, who are sometimes paid considerably better and have additional privileges. Parents need to be aware that behind the beatific faE*ade of some private schools - usually expressed through the managers - there are vital problems and injustices that affect our childrenA[sup.3]s education.

Another example will perhaps elucidate further our discussion. Private schools are represented (self-represented would have been a more apt term) as institutions that cultivate multiculturalism, respect towards other ethnicities and religions etc. However, a close inspection of most private schools would reveal disconcerting results. Most of them are still awkward regarding the presence of Turkish-Cypriot students or Muslims in general, and some of them are almost entirely composed of Greek-Cypriot students. In reality very few of them are truly and wholeheartedly multicultural.

The list of unsettling facts about private schools is long - perhaps longer than that of public schools - however, my purpose here is not to berate the private schools. Nevertheless, I think that the increasing number of families, opting for private education due to the crisis in our public schools, should have a clearer idea of what goes behind the seemingly seamless curtain of the most private schools before registering their children.

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2009

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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