athens: the state of education

Posted on March 21, 2006



by melinda elliott

Since the beginning of the school year, my son has missed quite a bit of school for many reasons which are beyond his control. He hasn’t missed one day of school because he was sick or even faking sickness.

In September, on his first day back from school, he had a substitute teacher for a week because his regular teacher got married and took the first week off school. (A 3 month summer break and the teacher decides to take an extra week off to get married on the first week of the new school year?? )This is the same teacher who drilled into his students’ heads last year that there was no acceptable excuse to miss school unless they were too sick. At least once a month, his class has a substitute teacher who can’t teach much more than the religion class and language. Usually, she gives them a two-hour break to play soccer. The day before, he didn’t have school because of the strikes.

He’s missed at least 6 days due to class trips. Now, I wouldn’t mind these trips if they were visiting museums, archaelogical sites or musical concerts. But all of them, bar none, have been to the cinema and theatre to see movies and plays that were more suitable for 6 year olds, not 12 year olds. Each of these trips cost about 8-10€.

For Oxi Day in October and the commemoration of the Polytechnic uprising in November, students spent several days each time preparing for them. Lessons are scaled back each time so they can practice marching in the parade for Oxi Day and learning songs and poems for November 17. For 10 school days, lessons were been scaled back again to prepare for the Christmas party. Now, that the end of March is drawing near, the children will be preparing for Greece’s Independence Day celebrations on March 28.

When you factor in teachers in-service days along with strike days, I figure that my son will have missed, at the very least, one week of lessons every month!

Both my husband and I have tried to bring up the subject in the Parents’-School Association meetings but that was just a forum for two parents who were hell-bent on removing cellular phone antennaes within the vicinity of the school. None of the parents who did show up did not seem the least bit concerned with discussing the quality of education their children were receiving. When I talked to two of my son’s teachers about the manner of teaching and the educational value of the field trips, they both said I should talk to the Parents’ Association and see if any other parents felt the same way.

Marietta Giannakou, the Minister of Education, seems to be a capable politician so I’m hoping that during her tenure as Education Minister, things will actually change in the school system.

Public education is not free. Our taxes pay for the schools and books. In order to supplement the the lessons he lacks at school, I pay ( like most Greek parents) for computer/music/language and athletic lessons in private learning institutes. If this situation continues when he goes to junior high school next year, I will most likely be paying for additional science/history and language classes as well. Once that happens, I fear his interest in learning will subside and I may not be able to afford it all anyway if the economy continues its downward spiral. Friends of mine send their children to private schools but I’m not sure that’s the solution either since they are so expensive and the pressure on these children to bring home good marks is unbelievable.

Since our children are now competing in a global job market, I simply cannot leave his education solely in the hands of the State. How long will it take the State to actually initiate change instead of dialogue in our public schools? Employment options for our children are disappearing with every day they spend discussing the situation.