In order to counter the Covid-19 emergency, the Government of Cyprus decided to suspend the in-school operation of all public and private schools at all levels on 11 March 2020. The decisions are valid for both general and VET: no VET-specific measures have been taken. Within a few days after school closure, teachers (except those in vulnerable groups) were recalled to schools to create their school specific action plan for distance synchronous and asynchronous learning options. Teachers worked mainly from home using online tools; they were present at the school only when necessary and according to government instructions for the safe operation of all public and private organisations.
Existing infrastructure has been used to support distance learning. Priority was given to learners’ access to a computer/tablet and internet at home. A distance synchronous education programme has been implemented, using Microsoft Teams; more than 110 000 teachers and learners have gained access to this software. Intensive online teacher training courses have been provided by the Pedagogical Institute of Cyprus, starting with upper secondary teachers. At school level, networks of teachers have been formed to provide peer assistance on the use of distance learning tools. Learners were taught how to use distance learning tools with their teachers’ assistance.
Supportive educational material for all learners has been uploaded onto the education ministry’s web page and on individual school web pages. Public and private television channels have supported overall efforts by broadcasting lessons and other educational programmes, especially for younger learners.
The education ministry is concentrating its efforts on ensuring the smooth ending of the school year in a way that safeguards the quality and credibility of the education system.
The gradual lifting of restrictions started on 4 May 2020. The academic year is expected to be completed on 30 June 2020, while school attendance for all levels of education, except for the upper secondary cycle, will last till 26 June 2020. The next academic year is expected to begin earlier, on 1 September 2020.
According to the government plan for reopening schools, priority was given to the final year of upper secondary education. Learners of both upper secondary general education and upper secondary technical and vocational education returned to school on 11 May 2020. Learners are divided into two groups and physically attend school lessons on a weekly rotation basis.
Primary and lower secondary education schools reopened on 21 May 2020, on the same weekly rotation basis. Learners in the first and second year of upper secondary education will not be returning to school but will continue to use distance learning methods. Those who belong to vulnerable groups have informed their schools and receive specialised support at home, through e-learning.
The post-secondary institutes of VET (public school of higher VET), the afternoon and evening classes of technical and vocational schools, the preparatory apprenticeship and the third year of the core apprenticeship have restarted.
Since the reopening of schools, all necessary safety and hygiene measures are being taken for the protection of learners and teachers, according to the guidelines of the health ministry and the safety protocol developed particularly for school operation. Rearrangement of the use of school buildings and the time shifts ensured a small number of learners (maximum 12) in each classroom. Learners and their parents have been informed about hygiene guidelines. Social distancing rules apply, and breaks are arranged periodically. All school buildings were disinfected before reopening. 20 000 diagnostic tests have been conducted on teachers and students, by mobile units of the health services.
The education ministry has decided that the Pancyprian Examinations (which also determine learners’ access to public universities in Cyprus and Greece, or other European and third countries) will begin on 9 June 2020 and that they should be the priority. The final examinations programme and the revised examination syllabus have been announced. Upon their return to school, learners in their final year have focused on the examination syllabus, based on specific guidelines. The Pancyprian Examinations will take place in school buildings, with a reduced number of learners in each classroom in accordance with the safety protocol.
No other final examinations will take place; the final examinations for all years of lower secondary education and the first and second year of upper secondary general and upper secondary vocational education were cancelled. The education ministry is trying to ensure that learners will acquire the right set of knowledge, skills and competences needed for their smooth transition to the next education level.
The Human Resource Development Authority of Cyprus (HRDA) decided to promote CVET e-learning by the providers of subsidised training programmes, as of 26 March 2020.