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Presented at ISEC 2000

Special Education in Cyprus: A critical historical account

Helen Phtiaka, University of Cyprus

Looking back from the "wisdom" and the "safety" of the early 21st century, at the history of special education in Cyprus, we are privileged to be able to note a series of parallel developments and influences that have shaped it into what it is today. Starting in 1929 with the establishment of separate, independent and charity run special schools, like many other countries before it (Phtiaka 1997), Cyprus reaches in 1999 the stage where a number of pressure factors (Table 6) lead the State to establish new legislation supporting the integration of children with special needs in the mainstream school system.

This 70 year old history can be divided into four stages for ease of reference (Table 1). The first stage (Table 2) officially begins in 1929 with the establishment of the School for the Blind by the wife of the English governor of the island at the time Lady Storrs. Like many of the schools that follow, the School for the Blind in its early days is run as a charitable institution that offers primarily care and training, and later education too, to our "less fortunate fellow human beings". The State assumes responsibility for it in 1957, but even then the School retains a part of its autonomy as it is run by a Board of Directors.

As elsewhere (Solity 1992), in Cyprus too sensory impairments attract early attention (the School for the Deaf is the next one to be established in 1953), while the so called Mentally Retarded do not receive any attention until 1962. Fear for a condition unknown and apparently far removed from the ordinary seem to be an important reason for this, while the presence of sensory impairments in all social classes as noted by Mittler (1993) in his analysis for the British system undoubtedly plays a role. This first stage, which lasts until 1979, can be called "Gradual Establishment of Special Schools" because this is exactly what takes place during this time. Special Institutions and schools are being established all over the country catering to a multitude of disabilities and needs. Each one is run by a Board of Governors following its own set of rules and regulations and is doing so in competition with the rest of the special schools and institutions. There is no uniform philosophy, policy or legislation, and practice is piecemeal and haphazard.

All this diverse activity comes to an end in 1979 when the Cyprus Parliament votes the 1979 Special Education Law. The year 1979 can therefore be considered as the start of a new era, a new stage for our analysis, which lasts until 1988. It is the stage of the "Unified Legislation". The multitude of special schools that were established during the past 50 years are now subject to the same legislation and it is therefore expected that they will flourish. The 1979 legislation is brought to put an end to the multitude of practices used -as far as that is possible- and it reflects the conditions of its time. It is separatist in its philosophy and it glorifies the special school as the most appropriate place for the education of children who deviate from the norm. Such children are to be found divided in four categories: maladjusted, trainable mentally retarded, physically disabled and slow learners (Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture 1996). These four categories (much fewer and much more compressed than those included in similar British legislation of the 40's) (Phtiaka 1997) attempt nevertheless to capture and to cover needs across a wide spectrum. During the first four years of this stage the special schools that were established in the previous stage have an opportunity to flourish protected by a national law which unifies -to an extent- policy and practice. This does not last long however. In 1988 we have a serious attack on the special school separatist philosophy originating within the premises of the Ministry of Education and Culture (Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture 1988).

This change of philosophy and heart on behalf of the Ministry is important enough to take us to an new era and introduce the third stage in our historical development. It takes the form of isolated integration instances of children with special needs into the mainstream school which come into direct conflict with the newly established legislation. This conflict between legislation on the one hand and philosophy and practice on the other which starts right in the middle of the second stage, finally materialises in an official declaration from the Ministry of Education and Culture in its Special Education Bulletin published in 1988 (Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture (1988). In that document the term integration appears for the first time on official paper and the use of integrational practices -in contradiction with the current legislation- is argued to be a practice in accordance with its time. The third stage of development in the history of the cypriot special education is therefore riddled with integration practices which we shall still call informal as they are not backed up by relevant legislation.

The conflict between legislation and practice during this third stage of development in the history of cypriot special education can be explained as a product of the simultaneous concurrence of a number of social and historical conditions. Suffices here to say that personal ambitions and goals appear to be fuelled by international circumstances and influences as the integration movement is in the eighties sweeping across Europe (Visser & Upton 1993). Cypriot parents are also beginning to be a force to be reckoned with as they come into contact with developments outside Cyprus and appreciate that children just like theirs enjoy many educational opportunities in other contexts. With their unwillingness to accept segregatory practices for their children, they become the driving force behind instances of integrational practice.

The conflict comes to an end in 1999 when the new special education law replaces the outdated and underused 1979 legislation. With the new legislation we have at last achieved -on paper in any case- a harmony between the philosophy, the legislation and the practice of special education as they all point to the direction of integration (Table 6).

The year 2000 A.D. is therefore for Cypriot Special Education an important landmark. United efforts of disabled organisations, parental groups and some forward looking education officials in the country, coupled by a strong influence from international agreements, international legislation and national assessments come to fruition with the establishment of a legislation which for the first time gives children with special needs the right to be educated alongside their peers in the school of their neighbourhood. The University of Cyprus, present in this debate only for the last five years due to its belated establishment in 1992 (University of Cyprus 2000) has also partly contributed to this achievement.

Our common task for the future (Table 7) is to be vigilant regarding the implementation of the new legislation, ensuring that the rules and regulations to be formed will retain intact the integrational spirit of the legislation. We also need to continue working towards the preparation of a centralised competitive education system to respond to this enormous challenge and ultimately move on to an inclusive school.

Table 1

Special Education in Cyprus Four Basic Stages

  A. 1992 "1929"-1979: Gradual Establishment of Special Schools
  B. 1979-1988: Unified Legislation- Special Schools Separatism
  C. 1988- 1999: Informal Integration Practices
  D. 1999- Legislative enforcement of Integration

Table 2

A. "1929"-1979

Gradual Establishment of Special Schools


Lack of a clear unified Philosophy


Lack of unified Legislation


Gradual Establishment of Special Schools starting with the School for the Blind 1929 and the School for the Deaf 1953

Table 3

B. 1979-1988 Unified Legislation- Special Schools -Separatism


1988 Special Education Information Bulletin


Law 47/79 The Special Education Law of 1979


Special Units for Pupils with Hearing Problems

Table 4

C. 1988- 1999 Informal Integration Practices


1996 Special Education Information Bulletin


Law 47/79 The Special Education Law of 1979


Parralel Practices, Special Units, Partial Integration

Table 5

D. 1999- Legislative enforcement of Integration




Law 113(I)/1999 The Special Education Law of 1999



Table 6

Factors Influencing Alterations in Philosophy, Legislation & Practice

I. International Agreements

1959 Rights of the Child
1971 Rights of the Mentally Handicapped
1975 Rights of the Disabled
1981 Sundberg Report
1994 Salamanca Report

II. International Reports & Legislation

1875 Education Act - USA
1978 Warnock Report - UK
1981 Education Act - UK 1981 Education Act - Greece
1985 Education Act - Greece

III. National Reports

1980 UNESCO Report (J. Benevento)
1990 Markides Report 1992 Constandinides Report
1993 UNESCO Report (J. Hansen)
1997 Report L. Barnard
1997 UNESCO Report
1997 Paschalis Report

IV. Parental Pressure

V. Disabled Organisations

VI. University of Cyprus

Table 7

2000 A.D.

Current Situation

Integration of Children with Special Needs in Mainstream Schools Supported by Law

Future Goals

* Successful application of the new legislation

* Preparation of the mainstream school system for inclusion

* Introduction of an Inclusive School System



Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture (1988) Special Education Bulettin, Nicosia: Ministry of Education and Culture.

Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture (1996) Special Education Bulettin, Nicosia: Ministry of Education and Culture.


Mittler, P. (1993) Special Needs in the Crossroads, in Visser, J. & Upton, G. (eds.) Special Education in Britain after Warnock, London: David Fulton Publishers.

Phtiaka, H. (1997) Special kids for special treatment? - How special do you need to be to find yourself in a special school?, Lewes: Falmer Press.

Solity, J. (1992) Special Education, London: Cassell.

Tomlinson, S. (1982) A Sociology of Special Education, London: Routledge.

University of Cyprus (2000) University of Cyprus Undergraduate Prospectus 2000-2001, Nicosia: University of Cyprus.

Visser, J. & Upton, G. (eds.) (1993) Special Education in Britain after Warnock, London: David Fulton Publishers.




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