The role of Education in every well-ordered state is indeed of vital importance. This role cannot be limited to the development of cognitive or technical skills, but it rather should embrace deeper and more substantial notions such as the spiritual growth and the cultural maturation of the people. Education should contribute to the formation of the world that is limited to any social inequalities and economic discrepancies and is predominantly characterised by its humanity, the protection of human rights and equal opportunities, independent of one’s religion, race, and social or financial position.
Education, as this is defined in Greek philosophy, in the context of classicism, incorporates notions such as civilization, enculturation and enlightenment. It is also related to the notion of humanism, the philosophical tenet according to which man’s position in the world is central. Later on, the term education referred to the spiritual development, which, according to Saint Maximus the Confessor, would lead man to the knowledge of God, and would furthermore lead man to procure eternity. Nowadays, the notion of education also refers to the acquisition of knowledge and skills that will lead individuals to personal completeness and social integration.
The educational system plays an essential role in the development of education. According to the French sociologist Émile Durkheim, education is defined as the practical transfer of knowledge and skills from the older generations, who have acquired them in an adequate level, to the younger more inexperienced generations. This educational process cannot be, and should not be, compartmentalised into different stages or phases. Using modern and practical terminology, considering educational levels, namely primary, secondary and tertiary, as autonomous is both unjustified and inappropriate.
Therefore the necessity for continuous improvement of the educational system in Cyprus is undoubtedly pivotal. Yet the changes in our educational system should be grounded on certain principles. First, our ontological characteristics should be considered, namely our history, tradition, religion, and the overall character and values of our people. These characteristics have been developed and intertwined through a prolonged process, and therefore they comprise our identity and our power. Joseph Nye, an American political scientist and dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, whose views were influential in the formation of the international politics of the USA, suggested that a country could achieve its aims in the international politics, if the other countries esteem the values of its people, and try to reach that level of prosperity and freedom. Assuredly, Cyprus cannot have such an ambition, yet we should realise that our identity is our only possibility for diversification and respect.
Second principle, which should be taken into account for the educational change, is the current financial and social circumstances that we face as a country. The challenges that we confront should lead us to give to the young generation the opportunities for choosing a professional path that would offer employment, prosperity and effectiveness in a professional environment, that nowadays has two characteristics: technology plays a gradually essential role in every aspect of work, and the job market becomes rapidly globalised.
The political circumstances in our country should be also considered, in two different levels: in a national level, one should consider the Cypriot Issue and the presence of the Turkish Cypriot community, either as a de facto reality or as a realistic aspect of a possible solution; and in an international level, considering the increase of globalisation as a political, social and economic phenomenon, as well as the dangers that emerge due to the developing political turbulence in our geopolitical zone.
Finally, educational change should consider the need for uninterrupted and constructive transition from one educational level to the next. The three basic levels of education, primary, secondary and tertiary cannot be considered autonomous, let alone independent. The one should complete the other retaining of course its natural characteristics, aims and needs.
Concluding, we should acknowledge the crucial role of education throughout our history. According to Socrates, “education, similar to a prosperous country, can embrace every good”1. Indeed, education can play an essential role in the prosperity of Cyprus. Our only concern should be the effective collaboration among the various agents, namely policy makers, academics and active educators for a significant improvement of our educational system, for the benefit of our children and our country.
Dr. Marios Ioannou