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Students have a right to proper education

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Schools in Cyprus are about to open in less than two weeks and the Ministry of Education is still consulting with state teachers’ unions on what the new academic year will look like.

On the one hand, the coronavirus-imposed measures have yet to produce the required result with the much-anticipated vaccines far from reach.

Whereas in the absence of public discipline, the health restrictions introduced in March, together with social distancing and ‘hybrid classrooms’ have become the new normal for all schools on the island and the rest of the world, from kindergarten to universities.

But the Covid-19 pandemic also presented Cyprus with an opportunity to reform the union-controlled education system and move forward to more productive and technologically advanced learning.

Despite Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou declaring from the onset of lockdown that online classrooms are here to stay, too much time and energy is being wasted on how these classrooms should operate and whether the digital platforms violate the personal liberties of students and teachers.

The Data Protection Commissioner has to do just that, protect the personal data of all citizens. However, this cannot be at the expense of the fundamental right to education for all students.

War-torn countries in our neighbourhood do not have the luxury of proper education, let alone decent classrooms or new textbooks, printed or even electronic.

And yet, those who are exerting pressure on the Minister not to allow live classroom sessions with a rotation of in-class students, are acting in a manner not even seen in Soviet-era countries.

The argument being used sounds ludicrous, suggesting that perverts are lurking behind every laptop, snooping on other students who are at home.

This theory, driven by teachers, has been favoured by some students who do not want to be seen dozing off in the virtual classroom, finicking on their mobiles or just walking off to get a fresh cuppa.

Teachers have even claimed that in one instance (out of tens of thousands of users), a classroom in Nicosia hooked up with a student in Paphos, blaming the digital platform for the glitch.

There are only two answers to this ‘violation of human rights’: either the student entered the wrong profile data, or the teacher was incompetent to manage the classroom, albeit smaller in number.

Let’s be clear. Computers do not make mistakes, humans do.

Blaming Microsoft for not knowing the realities of Cypriot classrooms, is a lame excuse in an attempt by teachers to cover up their lack of classroom management and teaching skills, which will be evident to many more people outside the classroom.

Clearly, many did not go to the training seminars when this attendance ought to have been mandatory and subject to a teacher acquiring grades for assessment or promotion.

Why is it the Teams platform, which seems to be functioning perfectly in private schools, has a problem in state schools?

Is this not why private school classrooms resumed within weeks of the March 10 lockdown while in state schools, teachers were undecided if they were to do revision, twiddle their thumbs or actually do some teaching?

Our students are already victims of an inefficient and unproductive public education system.

They have lost four months and could lose more unless the Minister puts his foot down.

Students, who are often egged on by their teachers to demonstrate and evade learning, are being denied their right to a fair, equal and unhindered education.

Oh, what little we have learnt from the lockdown.