Cyprus Education System: a native’s perspective

Written by Pervin Derin Erk

Cyprus is a small island with big issues; politically ambiguous, economically unstable, physically divided and socially discriminative. A long-standing ethnic conflict that has the island divided with a recognised legal republic in the southern part and a de facto state in the northern part of Cyprus. The relationship between the two sides is essentially based on mistrust, a bloody history, and disagreements on the past, present and the future. Within this context, education is one of many areas that the island faces challenges in. There are a lot of things that need to be improved in the education system of the island, but I will lay down the top problems I have experienced or have seen my peers experience. So, from a native’s perspectives, here are the educational challenges in Cyprus…  


First, let’s explore the brief history of the island and its current social conditions. Cyprus is an island in the Eastern Mediterranean and was visited colonised by many civilisations over history. Currently, the island’s natives belong to four distinct ethnic groups, which are Greek, Turkish, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots.1 The two main ethnic groups, the Greek and Turkish groups have been in conflict for the past century, which has led to the division of the island between the Greek-speaking groups (Greek, Maronite, and Armenian Cypriots) and the Turkish-speaking group. The two sides essentially have their own governments and their own education systems, even though the northern administration is not recognised by any international organisation or country apart from Turkey, its neo-colonialist. To keep this article as clear and inclusive as possible, I will focus on the challenges in both states’ educational systems, as well as what happens when the two groups interact in schools.  

Republic Schools and Their Turkish-Speaking Students  

The quality of education is considered better by many Turkish-speaking Cypriots and therefore families that can afford it send their kids to the private schools in the Republic. This leads to the problem of biased curriculum against the Turkish-speaking students as well as a language barrier in the communication among students and with their Greek-speaking teachers. Even though there are Greek lessons for Turkish speakers and Turkish for Greek speakers, the language abilities do not reach a point where there can be fluent and effective communication in either language. This, coupled with a general racism towards each other, makes the experience of education more difficult and discriminative than it should be. As a result, the learning environment and the learning experience is not as welcoming for non-Greek speaking students. They make up a small percentage of the entire student population but deserve the same level of quality and experience as their Greek-speaking classmates get.  

Moreover, the divided nature of the island has led to divided views on its history. As mentioned before, the relationship between the two sides is based on mistrust and disagreement. Curriculums created within such an atmosphere are not objective and can be violent. Not violent in the sense that history teachers physically abuse their Turkish-speaking students, but violent in the sense that the use of bloody and gruesome imagery history books, or the listing of every person killed in the armed conflict phase. This may seem trivial but imagine being one of the only Turkish-speaking students in the class and seeing the Turkish names on the history books and having them be accused of murder.

What About Northern Cyprus? 

The curriculum in the north is influenced heavily by Turkey and relies on the regime’s approval to be taught in schools. The regime does not do this openly, but rather by interfering with the local politics and ensuring its allies sit in high places. By doing this, Turkey holds the northern part of Cyprus and subsequently its education system in its fist. Let me explain further with a personal anecdote… 

I went to a public college, considered the best school in the northern part of the island. It was renowned for its educational quality and the teaching staff, who would have to wait in line for many years to be appointed to the school. For the ‘Religious Studies and Morality’ course, a teacher would be appointed from Turkey, given the lack of interest in religious studies by the locals. In my first year there, we had a religion teacher who was a good and understanding teacher. Let’s call him X. When we went back to school the next year for grade 7, X had been replaced. At the time, we did not give this much thought since the replacement of teachers, especially for religious studies was common. A couple years later, the subject of religious education came up in another class and, as an example, our teacher casually mentioned X and how he got sent back after being discovered as a Turkish spy, if we had already heard about it. The class was in shock. A spy?! That guy?!  

We questioned the teacher further and she finally admitted that he used to listen in to the teachers’ conversations in the teachers’ lounge and whenever he heard something suspicious or anti-regime, he would report it to the Turkish government. A group of teachers started suspecting him after some time, though I forget why exactly, and requested an investigation. Sure enough, he was confirmed to be a spy and was sent back before the new school year. That was the first time we, as students, felt exposed and vulnerable. We had been so sure of our safety because our state could, to a certain extent, still have some autonomy. Luckily, when we were told of this, the religious studies phase of our education was already over. 

After this experience, it all started to jump out at us. The specific words used in the history curriculum and how our anti-regime teachers would make us ignore pages and pages of information for their unnecessarily long and detailed incidents; the pictures used, and the people it depicted… it all became clearer and more obvious. Even our Cypriot history books were printed and published in Turkey first. This bias and tight grip on the education of Northern Cypriot students not only creates a certain kind of knowledge, but also hampers accurate and broad knowledge production. As a result, students are fed certain propaganda that is anything but peaceful towards their fellow Cypriots on the southern side of the island. So, what kind of a generation is this curriculum raising and how can we expect improvement if we are taught to ruminate over the past still instead of moving forward? 

What Other Problems Are There?  

The teacher shortages, inadequate special needs education, policy mismatch and more can be further discussed and analysed.  

Compared to the other EU-27 countries, investment in education per student remains high in Cyprus in except at pre-primary level. However, it seems that this funding is not being diverted in a balanced way, with the special needs education not receiving sufficient funding.  

Further, the institutionalisation of gender disparities, sexist ideologies, and homophobia, coupled with a lack of sex education adds to the educational quality and integrity, as well as the experience of these for students of different backgrounds.  

Conclusion and Suggestions 

There is a lot to be done in the realm of education in Cyprus, for both the Republic and the northern part. To tackle the many challenges, there needs to be a concrete understanding of the institutionalised racism against Turkish speakers. It cannot be brushed under the carpet, nor can it be accepted as a thing that just is the way it is. The quality of education and the educational ambitions of students should not be undercut by the discrimination faced at schools from their peers, or from their lesson materials. 

What is more, a lot more research needs to be done. Empirical research about the educational experiences of students of different backgrounds is crucial to have a concrete understanding of how they are affected. By doing this, certain policies and lessons can be adjusted to be more welcoming and less discriminative to students. It would also highlight the areas that the curriculums are lacking in and see what students need to be taught in schools, such as a broader sex education. There also needs to be thorough statistical research that would clearly show the funding and policy imbalances as well as how many students are benefitting from it (e.g.: dropout rates).  

All these changes and research are difficult and time-intensive projects that will take years upon years to complete and implement, but better late than never!  


Zembylas, M. (2010). Greek-Cypriot teachers’ constructions of Turkish-speaking children’s identities: critical race theory and education in a conflict-ridden society. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 33(8), 1372-1391. 

Cover Image via Freerangestock

Universal Periodic Review of Cyprus

This report drafted by Broken Chalk contributes to the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the Republic of Cyprus. This report focuses exclusively on human rights issues in Cyprus’ education field.

  • Cyprus has turned the island into a place renowned for conflicts due to the differences between the two central communities, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In 1974, a Greek coup against the President of the country and Turkey’s military invasion and partition of the island led to the forceful division and completed the physical separation of the two central communities. (i) This situation and especially the consequences of the Turkish invasion affected every sector, such as the economy, the society, and the education system. 
  • Nowadays, two education systems exist in the country. The structural organisation of Turkish schools is similar to the Greek one. However, there are a lot of differences. The Republic of Cyprus, as a member of the European Union since 2004, complies with European standards about education. Compulsory education lasts for ten years and four months, starting from the age of 4 years (pre-preliminary education) and extending to the age of 15 years (end of lower secondary education). Public education, namely preliminary, primary, and secondary education, is free for all from the age of 4 years to 18 years. However, there are many private institutions. Furthermore, public tertiary (non-university level) education is free. As for public higher education (undergraduate level), it is free for Cypriots and citizens from the European Union, as the government fully pays the fees. [i]
  • As for the northern part of Cyprus, Turkey controls it, and the educational system is similar to the Turkish one. Education is compulsory and free from age 5 to 17 years. Higher education includes all the institutions after secondary education. The system consists of 5 private universities and one semi-public state academy. [ii] Under these circumstances, both educational systems of Cyprus have been criticised for supporting the idea of the other as an enemy.

By Alexia Kapsabeli

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[i] Cyprus Eurydice European Union Last accessed 3 September 2023

[ii] Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Turkiye “Study in North Cyprus”   Last accessed on 5 September 2023

Cover image by EUCyprus via Wikimedia Commons