As concern mounts over the Cyprus government’s decision to send children back to school on May 21, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou issued a press conference Friday morning to clarify how the return of students to classrooms will play out.
After President Nicos Anastasiades announced late last month that graduating students will be returning to school classrooms from as early as May 11, a broad meeting on Wednesday decided that the remainder of students will be returning to school on May 21, to participate in school classes in two groups that will rotate on a weekly basis, until the end of the school year on June 26.
Additionally, it was agreed that only graduating students would sit end of year exams, set to begin on June 9, while the remainder of students will be automatically bumped up to the next educational level.
On Friday, Prodromou said that “the decisions taken by the government were green-lit by experts,” but noted that “if needed, we will adjust any decisions”.
Prodromou said that on Saturday, the expert team of scientists consulting the government will hold a teleconference to inform the managerial groups of secondary schools and technical schools on the health and safety protocols governing the return of students to school grounds. Meetings with heads of kindergartens, middle and primary schools will follow next week.
Parents and students will also be made fully aware of protection measures that will need to be followed, Prodromou added, while informative video clips will also be created to serve this purpose.
Prodromou said that he will also be holding a live broadcast on Facebook for two hours on Saturday to answer any questions the public may have.
He clarified moreover that while students who fall under vulnerable groups as regards coronavirus will have to stay home, from where they will receive educational support from their school, attendance records will continue to be taken for all other students.
Health and safety protocols
Reiterating the protective measures the government has agreed on to ensure a safe return of students to school, Prodromou said “20,000 tests targeting schools will begin next week, starting from secondary schools.”
Notices will also be places around schools to deter overcrowding, while students will participate in classes in groups of 12, and will be sat on single desks.
Antiseptic liquids and special thermometers will also be made available in all school rooms.
Prodromou added that as students will be separated into two groups, with each group participating in school classes one week at a time, during the weekly rotation when one group will be at home, middle and secondary school students will continue their education through e-learning.
The Minister said that while private schools can follow the operational model to be implemented by public schools, they have the luxury of implementing their own methods, including a continuation of e-learning.
‘Decisions based on educational criteria’
After recent days saw the government decision to order the return of children to school being surrounded by a cloud of suspicion on the part of education unions who suggested that the decision was taken to satisfy financial concerns of business bodies, Prodromou said the decision was taken purely on the basis of educational criteria.
He added that the priority is for students to prepare for the coming academic year, which will heavily recap on curriculum that wasn’t covered this year.
Prodromou stressed that as society returns to normal, with people going back to work, moving about, and increasing sectors of the economy opening up, schools must also follow.
He said that no one can deprive students of learning, of being with their friends, and so the educational system must move forward and return to normal.
President responds to mounting reaction
In response to the heightened concern over the government’s decision to order the return of students to school classrooms, President Nicos Anastasiades said that the implementation of the decision remains dependant on the unfolding epidemiological situation, the final opinion of experts consulting the government, and the strict adherence of teachers, students, and those in their immediate environment to health and safety protocols.
“Concerns being expressed are completely understandably, but they are not justified, and I want to emphatically repeat this, as they are based on existing epidemiological conditions and suggestions of by scientific team,” Anastasiades said.
He stressed that “the government and I personally, will not allow the destruction of all the successes we have recorded through timely decisions, your sacrifices, and the climate of unity that prevailed.”
Anastasiades added that the priority of safeguarding the health, life, and wellbeing of the public remains.