It came as no surprise when Education Minister Nikos Filis announced changes to the Greek education system (nor did it surprise anyone that critics rushed to mark his reforms with an F). He’s not the first to tackle the country’s controversial school system that is plagued with problems in a country where Greek education ministers come and go with great intentions – all of them wanting to link the curriculum to the real needs of society. If anything, the past has shown us that the distance between intentions and deeds is vast. What looks good on paper, doesn’t necessarily pan out that way after compromises are made to keep everybody happy and regurgitate a system based on sterilized and outdated learning.
Below are 10 of his planned reforms for high school that are being criticized for leading to a “sovietized” system + another 10 problems that also need to be addressed:
Here are some of the changes Filis wants to bring to Greek High Schools:
Classes will end on May 31 instead of May 15 (currently the case) when high schools close down to allow for students to prepare for their end-of-year exams in June. The closure of Greek high schools in May results in students staying at home, supposedly to study, without supervision in cases where the parents work.
Lessons to be examined at the end-of-year test period will be limited to written exams in four subjects for all classes from the current thirteen subjects (Year 7), thirteen subjects (Year 8) and fourteen subjects (Year 9). Students will only sit for end-of-year written exams in (a) Modern Greek Language and Grammar with a joint test for language and Modern Greek literature; (b) Mathematics; (c) Science; (d) History. This change will help alleviate some of the burden from students who are required to memorize material taught since the start of the year. Critics are outraged that the Ancient Greek language and Religion are not listed among subjects that will be examined at the end of the year.
The school year will be separated into two four-month semesters instead of three terms in order in order to tone down exam fever that had students in a frenzy from mid-October until the end of November and again from mid-January until the end of February. With this change, the Greek Ministry of Education hopes that students will be in a position to better prepare for exams from mid-October through to January 20 and again from the end of January until the end of May 31. It is hoped that teachers will also be able to get to know their students at leisure at the start of the school year without feeling the pressure to rush through the curriculum. On a down side, there will be fewer parent-teacher meetings organized by the school and the first one will be in January at the end of the first semester – too late to do something in time to change a student’s course in cases where there are problems.
Remedial teaching will be available to high school students after the end of the school year to help students that need extra aid, especially those who failed to pass the classes. “The goal is to support students that have not achieved the expected results and not oblige them to seek paid tutoring or – if they cannot afford it – be made to manage by themselves when re-sitting for exams in September,” announced the ministry.
Experimental or selective schools will be privy to a pilot evaluation programme that allows students to express their views on the quality of the teaching offered to them. Their descriptive evaluation will also include a point-system grade.
Committees of the Institute of Educational Policy, school counselors and experienced teachers selected on the basis of their merit will be called to assess the curriculum. The goals of the committees will be: (a) to ensure that the material taught is in accordance with the skill and age level of the students and responding to their interests; (b) to assess whether it is possible for the material on the curriculum to be taught in the specific amount of time allocated to the lesson; (c) to limit the theoretical part of the lesson and give students the opportunity to be active in their learning; (d) to come up with ideas for projects and additional material that the students can research and pursue; (e) to study whether the material being taught is approached with depth rather than given a superficial treatment; (f) to scrap unnecessary details; (g) to limit the number of repetitions in the curriculum so that old material isn’t regurgitated again and again (so much for the spiral treatment of the same subject at different ages that had been promoted by the previous government).
School representatives will be called to meet in September in order to be briefed on the new teaching methods and the plans for the new curriculum. They will then be responsible for passing on the new rules and their application at schools accross Greece based on their relevant areas of teaching. Language-teaching counselors have already been briefed.
Three teaching hours have been scrapped from the high school curriculum so that students can pursue electives related to culture, the environment, hygiene and other clubs. Of course, this looks good on paper but not all schools allow students to freely choose and oftentimes the electives are taught by teachers who aren’t interested in topics far removed from their subject area turning electives into unstructured babysitting more than creative learning.
Immersive learning activities and co-ordinated projects that were begun three years ago are now being strengthened so that students can become more socially aware and cultured through the material in various subject areas aimed at increasing awareness. Subject areas such as language, music and art will be interconnected.
Year 9 will undergo Career Orientation Day in order to be better informed of their career choices. Of course, one day is not enough, bearing in mind that, apart from a few exceptions, career guidance counselors don’t have a strong presence in Greek high schools and there are no work experience programmes offered.
10 Problems that Need to Be Addressed
Students are allowed to roam away from the school grounds when teachers are sick or half-days are announced (usually on the actual day without advance warning). In such cases, parents are not informed as to the whereabouts of their children.
The distance between students (minors) and teachers (adults) seems to have obliterated in Greece. At school overnight field trips, it is not uncommon to see teachers and students going to nightclubs together where alcohol is served or teachers may drink a few beers with the students they are supervising. And call me old school, but should teachers be playing Candy Crush on Facebook with their students? While social media is a good thing, should teachers be sending students material for school lessons on Facebook at the exclusion of children who don’t use this social media outlet? ALSO there appear to be no set rules about alcohol at school. For instance, the PTA may consider it okay to sell mead to students during the Christmas bazaar to raise money for the school.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may have built a political career based on student sit-ins. * Unfortunately, however, this type of student protest results in (a) destruction of school property; (b) loss of valuable teaching time, especially for students who are interested in taking part in lessons but are prevented from doing so because some students have decided to shut down the school; (c) the practice shows an obvious lack of respect for the school environment and should not be tolerated let alone applauded or encouraged by parents themselves.
It is not uncommon for a school to be missing a teacher for a subject for half the year. During this time the student has free periods. Sometimes a principal may call on another staff member with less working hours to fill in until the specialized teacher comes. For instance, a Greek language teacher may be called to teach History. As you can imagine, not all teachers are familiar with subject matter beyond their fields.
There seems to be no dress code applied at Greek high schools. For this reason, students sometimes show up with inappropriate clothing but not suffer any consequence as a result of this.
At Greek schools, it is not shocking or unusual to hear a teacher call a student a “wanker” (malaka), “stupid” (ilithio) and other derogatory terms. They may even decide that they want to give half the class 0/20 for a snap test one day just because they feel that way inclined and simply because they can get away with it.
The student with the highest grade is given the honor of being a flag-bearer but also a roll-taker (apousiologos) in class. In this way, the student faces the dilemma of whether to fulfill this obligation and snitch on class mates who are absent or win over friends by not marking them as absent. Either way, the student should not be placed in this dilemma.
There is a regulation that does not allow cell phones in Greek schools but, at most schools, students use them under the teachers noses and are even advised to call home using these when they are sent home without formal or previous notice because they school is shut due to strike action, teacher’s illness or some other foreseen or unforeseen event. By allowing students to ignore rules by turning a blind eye to them, they are being sent the message that regulations are merely suggestions.
In senior high school, smoking secretly in the toilets progresses to outright smoking. This means that there are cigarette butts and the stench of cigarettes in some areas of the school. Principals and teachers who tolerate this do not deserve their jobs in my opinion.
Believe it or not, cleaners are paid to clean specific classrooms but not corridors. For this reason, there are some cleaners who simply only clean what they are paid to. Those who decide to do corridors are doing so at their own discretion. Be sure to thank them.
* student sit-ins: a bunch of students barricade themselves on the school grounds and don’t let the other students or teachers inside until their demands are addressed