School is once again at crisis point. The Big Ones are at a private English language school, and have been for the last five years. In that five years we have seen the head teacher change four times and the premises change three. We have stuck with the school for two reasons: there is little choice, we were holding out for the move to the new campus – hoping against hope that all the promises we had heard would be fulfilled.
Each year the fees have gone up. September 2010 saw Secondary moved to a private afternoon college's building because the Department of Education revoked the license due to unsuitable facilities. We watched the new school a-building down the road with scepticism and trepidation – how could it possibly be ready in time?
It was ready – well, sort of. Classes started in the building site, but there were no electricity, no internet, no blinds on the windows, and none of the whiteboards, computer facilities, science equipment that we had been promised. Chemicals for the science labs were ordered two years ago... but they haven't been paid for yet, so students learn their chemistry and physics 'theoretically', without ever performing experiments.
The last days of summer saw the students sweating in glare-boxes, and winter finds them shivering now that the 'solar gain' of this, Cyprus' first ecologically designed 'green' school, fails. A directive has come down 'No hoodies or sweatshirts, scarves, or non-uniform jumpers.' ('But it's cold and the uniform's inadequate!' the children wail.) Oh, and there's still no electricity apart from the generator: something about the Electricity Authority saying that the school must pay for a sub-station, or the Church (who own the site) saying that the school needs to pay more. So the bargaining continues. And, no, there's no transparency, either.
When time came to choose courses for this year, Alex, in his second year of GCSEs managed a workable schedule, and seems happy enough with his course load of maths, sciences, and ICT. Sophia, beginning her GCSE's, was unable to take French, art, or Greek due to scheduling SNAFUs. We have to do those subjects out of school hours because she enjoys them and thus excels. She is less fond of biology and economics – classes that she had to take because of the aforementioned SNAFUs – not because she doesn't like the subjects, but because the teachers are way below par. All last year's biology students – who scored A's and B's on their mock exams – received D's and F's on the real thing: a reflection of poor teaching, and the cause of much angst and devastation among parents and students.
“I started the year determined to work even if the teachers were incompetent,” Sophia said during a tempestuous family discussion last week. “But I can't because I simply don't have time.” Her other extracurricular activities include Taekwando and swimming. “Even if I see the past papers, I am simply not getting the kind of feedback to know if I'm doing the right kind of work!”
Then, one of her two good teachers left just before Christmas. Despite being a department head, he was still on a temporary contract; his wife, also a teacher, was verbally abused by the head of the Primary School; and his children were refused a discounted education despite both their parents being teachers. No wonder he took the High Road and elected to join the ranks of the unemployed when his wife was offered a first class teaching package in the Gulf. His replacement, a young woman, cannot hold a candle to him.
So I am off to see the headmaster this week. I like him and feel sorry for him: he seems like a capable, competent, hardworking and genuine man, but I think that he is being messed around by the directors and will probably not last even the two years that his predecessor managed. I'm going to complain – not because I believe that it will do any good, but because more voices of dissent need to be heard. Those of us who have stuck with the school are really fed up.
In the meantime, Sophia is investigating boarding schools in Britain, and salivating at what she sees. She cannot change for September 2011, but can apply for 2012 when the GCSE course is over. I had my doubts when she broached the subject of leaving, but when we discussed it in depth, I realised that her conclusions mirrored my own when I was fifteen and knew that I would have to leave Hawaii or sink academically, emotionally, and socially. I wound up at Madeira, and never regretted my decision.