The Cypriot education system facing the European challenge

Issue 3

“The Cypriot education system facing the European challenge”

Sifis Bouzakis


Cypriot education reflects the long and turbulent history of the island. Under the Ottomans from 1570 to 1878, then under the English up to independence in 1960, in a divided island since 1974 after the Turkish invasion, the education system had to adapt to the new circumstances all the time. Professor Bouzakis’ article follows major developments in it, esp. since independence, in an attempt to identify significant turns in education policy, as well as the factors and the conflicting forces behind them. Hellenocentrism in the content of education and convergence with Greek education policies have characterized Cypriot education policy making during the early independence period: education goals, structure, organization, curricula and textbooks, teacher education were all copying/ following the Greek pattern. Official statements however and pro-Hellenic public opinion did not prevent critical voices from being heard. AKEL (the Cypriot Communist Party), the then minister of labour (today’s president of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos) and several other circles were supporting the idea that Cyprus should and could follow – and in practice it actually did follow in e.g. technical education – policies that were more relevant to the country’ s specific circumstances and priorities without at the same time running the risk of breaking cultural links with the national centre; after all Greece during the 60s seemed unable to stabilize its own education policy, while Cyprus was more eager and willing to adopt the view – so widespread at the time – of education being primarily an investment and a fundamental prop for economic development.By 1976 a new Minister of Education and Culture proceeded to a major reform which, although it remained faithful to hellenocentrism, it placed its main emphasis on democratic citizenship, on the strengthening of the state, on democratization and on modernization. The clash between supporters and opponents of the reform would finally lead to a compromise, with some reform policies remaining intact and others being withdrawn and replaced by the more traditional policies of hellenocentrism and classicism.Education in the 90s bares witness of an inventory of education problems prepared by invited UNESCO experts which brought to the forefront of public debate the educational issues that have never been actually resolved. The country’s accession to E.U. provides a new frame of reference to this debate: despite the fact that Cyprus scores better than many European countries on a number of indicators, political authorities and the wider public complain for comparatively lower standards and call for a sort of catch up education. In this context, a number of special education committees are presently working to prepare a comprehensive reform proposal. It is thus believed that the long-standing problems of Cypriot education will finally find their solution.