OPINION

Education reforms

The education reforms decided at the first post-holiday Cabinet meeting yesterday deserve praise, but call for one observation. The government decided to increase the number of all-day and day-care schools to 5,500. All-day and day-care schools, which were initially introduced as a pilot program a few years ago, fulfilled pressing needs and became very popular. Our observation concerns the staffing and facilities of all-day and day-care schools. If these facilities are not staffed with suitable people (not just teachers), and if they are not equipped with the requisite facilities, then they will only be used for child-tending. The second Cabinet decision concerns the establishment of new university departments; 14 at new tertiary technical colleges and three at universities. New university departments will be set up by an Education Ministry decision (and rightly so, since it is the ministry that pays for it) but only following substantiated recommendation and detailed planning by the host institution. It will also be up to the government to decide where, in which city (or town) the new university school will be opened. The procedure for opening a new university department may seem impeccable on paper. However, there are reservations over what really happens in cases where the new department does not seem to be aiming at broadening the scientific scope of the university, but rather to serve private objectives and aspirations. In five of the 17 departments now being established, the discipline has yet to be defined, or is «under examination» or «under discussion.» This renders the new schools open to all sorts of ambitions and incompetence. The decision to append a new department does not mean that the operational costs are added to the funds. Usually, funds are divided among many departments, which ends up undermining the quality standards in all of them. The same applies to the establishment of new universities (very much in vogue of late), although it seems that more problems could be solved through the restructuring and, perhaps, the extension of existing institutions – and at a lower cost. Finally, the fact that universities and university departments are scattered across the country may serve the electoral needs of local officials, but it is contribution to higher education is questionable. Gone are the days when local officials would try to attract a military camp or a prison to their region for development reasons. Now they would rather host a university.