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Cyprus

Summary


Cyprus entered the twenty-first century as a divided nation state. Nearly three decades of ethnic conflict are symbolized in its divided capitol city, Nicosia. The United Nations peacekeeping forces stationed in Cyprus are a daily reminder to a generation that has suffered the pain of the Cyprus conflict. The effect of this ethnic conflict on students and the educational process is hard to understand or measure. The necessity for further research into the psychological effects of ethnic and political conflicts on children in general, and in Cyprus in particular, has been emphasized (Charalambous 2001; Erduran 1996; Ladd and Cairns 1996). The situation of the children of some 200,000 refugees is particularly vulnerable.

Though Cyprus cannot be characterized as a multilingual society, it has many small ethnic communities living permanently on the island, less permanent groups who live on the island for economic reasons but do not have their own language schools, and repatriated Cypriots who rely on state schools for their children's education. The monolingual Greek Cypriot educational system needs to be considered in the evaluation of the academic success of these students, particularly those who are bilingual and multilingual.

The division of Cyprus has impacted the languages of instruction. The political decision to offer foreign languages but not the language of the other major ethnic group on the island provides a stumbling block for dialogue between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. The increase in mixed-ethnic marriages and the addition of other ethnic groups and respective ethnic languages heightens the need for additional study and consideration of the official languages of instruction and the offering of foreign languages in Cypriot schools.

Representatives from the educational system could be sending teachers and sharing ideas with developing countries. As Bradshaw noted (1993), the educational system in Cyprus has distinguished itself in the following areas: highly qualified and sought after graduates of both gymnasium and technical/vocational programs, with top students continuing to study abroad after completion of secondary programs; well-established, ongoing curriculum development; and foremost skills in the translation of technical manuscripts, textbooks, and materials into the modern Greek language.

Based on the Bradshaw's (1993) experiences in Cyprus, the following suggestions were made to reduce tension between the two Cypriot communities and to enhance the quality of technical education: use a neutral language for instruction, perhaps English; free the technical school curriculum from religious education and allocate time for religious education for each student while having it taught within the religious communities of the family's choice by qualified religion teachers; free the technical school curriculum from ethnic history with provisions for historical background to be delivered outside the technical school curriculum and facilities; and develop a counseling program specifically designed to identify individual student weaknesses, prepare individual educational plans to address these deficiencies, and place students in classes where each has the opportunity to maximize his or her educational experience.

Regarding Bradshaw's first recommendation, Coufoudakis (2001) cautioned that Bradshaw's recommendations do not recognize either the educational traditions of the island or the political realities as they exist. Similar recommendations have been made for other divided ethnic societies, and were even made for countries like Germany during the Cold War. How could a bicommunal country like Cyprus abandon its traditional languages and opt for English? Recommendations of this type reflect a lack of understanding of the cultural foundations of societies (personal communication, March 15, 2001).

Curriculum change should be based on a two-way relationship of pressure and support and continuous negotiation between the center and the periphery which will amount to both top-down and bottom-up influences (Fullan 1993; Turnbull 1985). Both educational theory and teachers' perceptions should be taken into account by policymakers when they attempt to design and/or evaluate the national curriculum. The new model of curriculum change should also advocate the need for both national and local curricula. The new role of teachers will encourage both professional autonomy and self-motivated development that have been seen as significant sources of curriculum change (Kyriakides 1999). Finally, a close relationship between initial and in-service training with curriculum policy does not exist in Cyprus, but is required (Kyriakides 1999).

Koyzis (1997) has highlighted several poignant questions that require ongoing consideration as Cyprus evolves its educational policy: "What is the nature of Cypriot society? Should this be perceived as an extension of Greek society? Or rather is it unique and pluralistic enough to be able to be considered as a separate entity?" In addition to these questions should be added the challenge highlighted by Anastasiou (1995): the needs and future of tertiary education in Cyprus so that a planned development of Cyprus can occur.

The creation around the world of nation-states as political entities has relied greatly on the institutional socialization of the masses; state-controlled education has provided the major means of accomplishing the goal. Through homogenization, or the perception of sameness, a uniform account of history, culture, and national identity can be promoted. The division in Cyprus has made such homogenization difficult, as participants in and observers of the process explain that the focus has been on the differences rather than the similarities that have bound the communities of Cyprus together (Charalambous 2001; Gellner 1983; Hobsbawm 1990; Spyrou 2000).

"Teaching students in separate Greek and Turkish schools was perhaps one of the greatest errors in the recent history of the island" (Loizos 1974; Spyrou 2000). Furthermore, "the continuing division of the island is a testament to the thorough success of these curricula" (Charalambous 2001). Yet another scholar adds that, "if present difficulties are to be overcome—and the key to their solution probably lies far from Cyprus, as far away as Washington and Moscow—it will once again play its historic role as a bridge between east and west" (Browning 1990). Discourse regarding education in Cyprus needs to be founded on the awareness of curriculum as "a political document 'that reflects the struggles of opposing groups to have their interests, values, histories, and politics dominate the school curriculum' fully applies in the case of Cyprus" (Koutselini-Ioannidou 1997).

The challenge for educators in the twenty-first century is to provide an education system that facilitates overcoming these difficulties—to promote tolerance, understanding, and respect as educators prepare future generations of citizens to lead meaningful lives in a globally interconnected, interdependent universe.


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—Tonya Huber

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceCyprus - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education