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Friday, December 16, 2005 

How Can Kids Learn if They're Not In School?

Marietta Giannakou, Minister of Education
I know I must sound like a broken record because I'm writing once again about the quality of Greek education but it's a subject of real importance to me. 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.

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 and while she is a teacher, he tells me that she can't teach much other than the religion class and language. Yesterday, she gave 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 3 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€.

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 the last 10 school days, lessons have been scaled back again to prepare for the Christmas party.

When you factor in teachers in-service days along with strike days, I figure that my son has missed, at the very least, one week of lessons every month...and it's not even the end of December!

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.

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.

This sounds so much like the situation in Germany and it's one of the reasons we'd like to get out of here and give our kids a chance at a really good education.

Do you know if Greece participated in the PISA study and how they scored?

This whole post is spot on SeaWitch. Like christina we are intending to leave too. For many reasons but this is one of them. I don't know if education is much better anywhere else though? Home schooling seems to be the only alternative (illegal here I think?) I feel like I already do most of my kids educating.

Seawitch, I would recommend you send your son to the Athens College school. Apparently from people I know who send their children there, it's a top grade education and of course a private school. I'm saving my money now so I can afford the 10K Euros a year tuition. But, it's worth it from what I hear from other parents.

Because, quite frankly, the only ones who make out from the Greek public school system are the crappy teachers. Many of them also work in Frontesteria at night, thus teaching the same curriculum at night (for extra pay) that they should be teaching properly during the day. Maybe if they did, Greek parents wouldn't see the need to pay for frontesteria.

At least thank God Greeks have so much money to pay for frontesteria, but maybe paying for the private schools like Athens College would be a better investment.

In the 2003 PISA study, Greece consistently ranked in the bottom Christina...10 of the participating countries. Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico scored lower. Canada ranks in the top 10 and usually in the top 5 in most OECD education reports. Like you and Diva, I feel I have done a great disservice to my son's education by bringing him to Greece. Had I know then what I know now, I would have insisted on staying in Canada.

Diva...Education is better in most other countries. Even my education 30 years ago is better than what my son receives today. The only things I remember being forced to memorize wer the copula verbs and a couple of poems. In fact,the easiest way to get a failing grade was to write verbatim textbook copy on your exam. It's quite the opposite here as I'm sure you already know. Memorization is rewarded, creative thinking discouraged. And you're right...home schooling is illegal in Greece and in Germany too I believe. Article 14 of the EU Constitution allows it but like the flimsy document it is, allows national laws to supercede it. At least in Britain, you will be allowed to home school your son. On Friday, I will have another argument with his teachers, write another letter to Giannakou and nothing will change by the time I will send him back for his second term indoctrination classes.

Scruffy...I don't even know if private schools are the answer. Like I said in my blog, I know several parents who send their kids to them and 2 of them were hospitalized from stress and nervous disorders...the older one being 12 years old! If I have 60,000€ laying around to pay for my son's education to get it to the standards of Canada's then I may as well just move back to Canada, buy a house with that money and send my son to school for free.

LOL two times. Completely agree with you. My education was better two decades ago.!! At least! Not to give away my age or details. If I knew then what I know now...

scruffy american, who can afford private school? I can't afford even the lessons my son SHOULD be having, let alone all the rest. Education should never be about money? Or should it? The rich always rule and the poor work, maybe they want to keep the status quo?

I have read some of your blogs and I have noticed a trend within them all.... YOU complain constantly and are so negative about the country that you reside in.Is there anything you feel positive about in Greece and why be in Greece if this is the way you feel?Sorry if I offend you but this is just something I have noticed

Jay,

If me leaving would help Greece become a better country, I'd leave tomorrow, but I don't think whether I stay or not will change anything. So, I'll stay and just keep trying to get the Greek people to push the envelope and use their heads for more than just a hat rack.

By the way Jay, like you, some of my Greek friends ask me the same thing (Why don't I leave if I don't like it here), and I answer them with an ancient Greek phrase, "O Monophthalmos Einay Vassilias Steen Hora Ton Tiflon". (The One-eyed Man is King in the Village of the Blind). Now, of course I'm kidding, but it sure gets them to change the subject, which is fine with me.

I guess the point is that since we all live in Greece, we feel like a part of us is Greek, and we have just as much of a right to complain about things as other Greeks do. Trust me, Greeks also complain about these types of issues.

Finally, Greece and Greeks pride themselves on being the cradle of democracy, so I certainly don't think they will be truly upset if someone expresses themselves (even disagrees) in a polite manner as we all do.

Hi jay...thanks for taking the time to read my blog and post a comment. I am not the least bit offended with your questions...they're valid and I'll answer them.

Jay said...
YOU complain constantly and are so negative about the country that you reside in.Is there anything you feel positive about in Greece and why be in Greece if this is the way you feel?


You're right Jay. I do complain constantly in my blog for the simple fact that there's not really a lot to be happy about in Greece right now. The education system is bad. The church and the judiciary have been rocked with one scandal after another. Taxes are steadily increasing while the standard of living is on the decline. Xenophobia is still a problem. These issues don't disappear overnight if everyone pretends they don't exist.

In my very first post on my blog, I stated my purpose. You can read it here.

I've never been a person who found shopping, gardening, cleaning and ironing interesting and that's why I don't write about those subjects. I have written about the postive things about Greece which have made it possible for me to stay here for this long. But my blog is not about making feel good, it's about trying to make people demand and expect more from the institutions entrusted to manage our quality of life.

As for leaving Greece...why should anyone be expected to leave a country just because they have valid complaints? (I've also addressed that very question here.) In other blogs, I've stated that I wouldn't even bother complaining if I thought there was nothing to save in Greece. I am sickened to see such a wonderful country like Greece become a cesspool of scandal and political abuses. I can't say I haven't thought about leaving but when you have employees to pay and a son who would be uprooted from his family and friends, you don't make a decision like that too quickly. I may leave eventually one day but for right now, I'm here just trying to 'make a go' of it like many people around the globe.

Seawitch,

Again, as always, I admire your eloquence in replying to posters on your blog. I could learn a thing or two from you. Additionally, I just read some of your older posts, and found them enjoyable. I'll have to put the rest of them on my current reading list to get up to speed.

I believe that some negativism is good because if everyone just posts how great everything is here in Greece, it would be so boring and nothing could brew for positive change. Even over at Phylax, Ted's minions also criticize Greece sometimes.

As an American, I am acutely aware of constant criticism of our country and our foreign policy, so sometimes it's nice for other countries to experience that same type of critique (even for domestic issues) so they can understand how it feels.

At my own blog, my humorous style is always interjected in my rants. I even have a disclaimer explaining that I really love Greece, but some people just skip over that. However, in the spirit of the Seawitch, I'll start posting more positive comments on my own blog about Greece. I certainly don't want to be left out of the loop of positive change.

Scruff...I'm sure if I wrote a blog devoted entirely to love, joy, peace, puppies, kittens, babies and flowers, people would be complaining that I'm not living in the real world and I'm too naive to even have a blog. You can't win for losing sometimes Scruff. LOL

I wanted to have some sort of theme to my blog. I didn't want it to be a travel blog nor a personal daily diary. I want it to reflect the reality that I see around me every day and my reality is that living in Athens isn't exactly an extended vacation.

I don't think anyone should change their blogs to suit people's individual tastes. If I don't like certain blog themes, I don't bother with a second visit. The only thing I really try not to do on here is to avoid writing insulting blogs. I do my best to write factually accurate blogs to which some readers take offence. But like I said before, I don't write to make people feel good.

Thank you for responding to my comment so rapidly and giving a very good reason as to why you choose to blog the way you do.I do hope that your blog does bring awareness to others about the country that you live in.I read your profile and if I may ask, Why did you choose to leave your native country and why Greece as opposed to other countries?Just curious.

To answer Christina's post, Greece did indeed take part in the PISA study and was so far down the league table of nations that it was grouped alongside Tunisis, Turkey, Indonesia and the like.

The irony of the situation is that South Korean students were at the top of the PISA table, despite having the same level of funding in education per student as Greece.

From own experience of teaching, I can see that Greek kids are smart but their educational system seem to think that the perfect student is a human photocopier. Gradgrind, anyone ? Dickens would feel perfectly at home in the typical Greek classroom of the twenty first century.

Has anyone told the ministry of education that the c19th is over ?

Xenophobia is not a problem. The foreigners in Greece are the problem. Maybe the Greeks don't want to turn their land into a multiracial Bachanalia. Who are we to try to force feed them with multiculturalism at the expense of their traditional values of Fatherland, loyalty,Family and Religion ?
Remove the foreigners, lock stock and barrel, make Greece the way it was before the unecessary introduction of unrestricted foreign penetration and the word xenophobia will simply be another unused word in the dictionary.
I know a lot of Americans, Canadians, French, English, Germans families living in Greece and they love every bit of it. Having managed an "escape" from their multiracial jungle of Eden like New York, L.A., Toronto etc. is reason enough for them to be ever grateful under the Greek skies.

I believe we have what they call a troll lurking the blog now. In Internet terminology, a troll is a person who posts inflammatory messages on the internet, such as on online discussion forums, to disrupt discussion or to upset its participants. "Troll" can also mean the inflammatory message itself posted by a troll or be a verb meaning to post such messages. "Trolling" (the gerund) is also commonly used to describe the activity.

Lagardelle, Funny you mention Xenophobia and the foreigners as the problem. I think the Ancient Greeks would disagree with you.

In Ancient Greece, the "XENOS" (Guest or Foreigner) was someone to be revered and protected. However, thousands of years later in Modern Greece, the "XENOS" is someone to be taken advantage of, cheated, exploited, or otherwise insulted.

Scruffy American's experiences appear to be outstandingly unique.
The German, American, English and other expatriates whom I befriend, and myself included, have not had a taste of the whinging stories which you are regaling us in your comment. You have been rather unfortunate in your encounters with the locals, it seems. Cheat,taken advantage, exploited ? It sounds more like a an expose of life in a slave camp somewhere else rather than a depiction of life amongst Greeks. In any case those who feel ill at ease or unconfortable have the freedom to move forthwith to greener pastures elsewhere and carry on with their whinning about Greece.

If I go to visit a friend and find that my presence is unwelcomed, and it is a constant irritant to the host, it behoves on me as an unwanted guest to expedite a quick flight, from his house , and relieve my host of further aggravation.

Our large group of expats, have had nothing but warmth welcome, friendliness, smiles and sympathy in our constant interaction with the locals. Otherwise we would not have stayed on a permanent basis.
It is obvious that if I were to approach any greek with a growling attitude, I am bound to be riposted with a snarl.
We can not come to Greece and expect Greeks to adapt to us. We need to make staggering efforts to assimilate and adapt to their traditional ways of life, if we can not do that, then departure is the swiftest expedient. The host owes us nothing.

Like JFK said " Don't ask what America can do for you, but what can you do for America".

"Don't ask Greeks to pay obeisance to you , but how can you pay obeisance to Greece".

Lagardelle ,, I would just like to say that at the bottom of each blog it says "post a comment" NOT "post offensive remarks".You can say what you want without being offensive and coming off as a total fascist.I posted a comment and I believe it was in a proper manner and was responded to in a polite way.You have now made me realize why so many foreigners seem like they are complaining but in fact anyone would complain if they had to live amongst people such as yourself.I am so happy to be living in a country where we are accepting of others who are new to our homeland.I can honestly say that from reading your comment(for lack of a better word) that I would NEVER move to Greece.Happy blogging to all ...except Lagardelle.

Jay...I moved to Greece because my husband is Greek and he couldn't move to Canada at the time.

Thanks again for your comments and I hope you continue to keep posting.

teacher dude...you're totally right. Greek children aren't failing the education system, the system fails them. If anything, for the amount of hours children spend at schools and frontistiria, they should excel in educational tests like the PISA study but they're not. The system is in dire need of innovative reforms and I'm really hoping it'll be sooner rather than later.

Beware of Trolls....the best defense is to ignore them

Seawitch,

I've started reading your older posts now. I'm finished with November2004 and left some comments.

Wow, I just love some of your November2004 posts. What's amazing is that because of the internet, you find out that some of the same ideas that I have are shared by others (YOU).

In the old days, all we could do was bitch to the Athens News when we wanted to set things right in Athens.

The internet has changed all that. I love it. I start December when the baby goes down for her nap.

Cheers, Scruffy

Definition of "troll": One who states comments that are insuperable in fact and based in reality.

The old leftist maxim of "attack the messenger instead of the message" seems to hold true for some...

On to the topic of the post:

SeaWitch, there may be failings in the Greek education system, and you are closer to this issue than I, however the failings of the North American system is much greater and I think you view it as it was years past. Canada though is still better than the US with respect to general public education, though quickly fading. The US has been in decline for at least 2 decades now. If it weren't for private and catholic education, the US would be producing a bunch of poorly educated morons.

I don't have a strong opinion of rote and creativity. I think both are important though.

When I first arrived here we were sent to a foreign school with good education and discipline. Then the tution fee was high my parents decided to move us to a greek school. We didnt last a week, I had to beg my parent to move us back because I just couldnt understand all the lateness, all the meta, avrio and the teachers striking on the first week of school.

As an official holder of the Holy Greek Passport I grant you permission to critize greek society as you see fit. As for the rest of you 'pseudo greeks' don't be intimidated, there's a place for you here.

On a more serious note:

Yes the greek public education system plainly sucks. Any way you cut it. Mini photocopiers it produces (as yoda would say it).

I am 29 and unmarried but it toubles me greatly to think of the day I will have children. I will most probably not be able to afford private schooling and even if I could, is that any good?. It will probably alienate them from the rest of society. I don't know.

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