Preprimary & Primary Education
Since Cyprus has been at the crossroads of world travel through the centuries, the country's educational system has been influenced by many different civilizations. During the Ottoman Period (1571-1878), children attended school as early as age four in sibyan classes of elementary schools. Classes were mixed-age and included both genders. The children were confided to the teacher in a special religious ceremony called Amin Alayi, and this trust required certain religious qualifications of the teachers, both male and female. In 1878, when the British took over administration of education in Cyprus, there were 65 Turkish elementary schools (Mertan 1995).
During the British Period (1878-1960), the Elementary Education Committees conducted meetings between Ottoman and British educators that continued until 1929. During this time, the education of children between the ages of four to six was an issue. In 1926, for instance, only four schools existed on the island to educate children in this nursery age group, one in Famagusta and three in Nicosia. Weir explained in 1952 that nursery schools were completely lacking in Cyprus. The few schools that had been in operation were closed due to economic issues. Both the need for teacher training and the subsequent availability of trained teachers were lacking.
State preprimary education is a particular priority since the Turkish invasion of 1974 in order to support refugee families, equalize educational opportunities across economic groups, and enable more mothers to secure gainful employment. Preprimary institutions include public, private, and community-based nursery schools, day care centers, and kindergartens. The nursery schools are certified and supervised by the Ministry of Education, the day care centers by the Department of Social Welfare and Services. A uniform curriculum is provided for the nursery school experience, promoting integrated development and preparation for citizenship. The Pancyprian School for Parents serves as a primary agency for parental education in Cyprus.
Since 1962, primary education has been free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 to 12. Schools operate in every community of at least 15 children. Area schools serve neighboring communities with fewer than 15 pupils. Parental choice is not an option, and children must attend the school in their area.
Cyprus is a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the action plan developed at the Summit for Children organized by UNICEF in 1991. In a paper prepared for the 1997 Health and Social Welfare Conference, van Oudenhoven and Wazir (of International Child Development Initiatives, the Netherlands) provided an extensive overview of the Mediterranean experience regarding early childhood development and social integration, including the issue of social inclusion/exclusion in early childhood education. They describe critical factors to consider in early childhood preprimary education—most significantly, the inherent, inalienable right of every child to receive care and education with attention to physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. In Cyprus, about 0.06 percent of the population is under the age of five with virtually none of the population living below the absolute poverty level. Equally positive is the life expectancy average age of 77, the highest in the Mediterranean region (with the same life expectancy reported for Israel and Malta). The under-five mortality rate (U5MR) of 11 percent, as an indicator of the crucial components that indicate early childhood development, places Cyprus in an enviable position in contrast to other countries of the Mediterranean region—Israel was rated the only country with a better rate at 9 percent, while Turkey's rate was 50 percent and Morocco's, 75 percent (van Oudenhoven & Wazir 1997). Cyprus ranks comparatively healthy in the consideration of malnourished children as well, with 8 percent.
School enrollment and dropout rates can be considered as indicators of the psycho-social development of children. In Cyprus, school enrollment for all boys and girls in the late twentieth century stood at 99 percent, with virtually no dropout rate. That these rates are equal for boys and girls accounts for Cyprus having the highest female literacy rate in the region (91 percent), compared to only 31 percent in Morocco, 49 percent in Algeria, and 72 percent in Turkey.
Most of the primary schools in urban areas and larger communities are divided into two cycles: cycle A, catering to grades I through III, and cycle B, comprised of grades IV through VI. The pupil-teacher ratio at the national level is 19:1 with a ceiling set at 34 pupils for the largest classes.
Experiential, meaningful learning is promoted through an emphasis on environment, science and social subjects, language development, music, art, physical education, home economics, design and technology, and information technology. The acquisition of the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics is given an important place in all grades of primary schooling. Primary school graduates receive a leaving certificate at the end of the sixth year after evaluation through continuous assessment.
Northern Cyprus: The northern region of Cyprus under Turkish occupation provides preschool education in kindergartens for children between the ages of four and six. Primary education is provided at two stages: elementary school for the 7 to 12 age group, which lasts for five years, and secondary-junior school for the 13 to 15 age group, which lasts for three years. Both preschool and primary education is free and compulsory.
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