Ministerial ambitions are the Greek education system’s biggest problem. This is evident not just in the grandiose reforms they announce every so often in order to catch the headlines, but also the fact that they all want to accomplish something other than simply educating our children.
Such ambitions govern the pompous proclamations about “shaping students’ consciences.” The former SYRIZA minister wanted them to have a “social conscience,” while the current minister would prefer they have a “national” one. In the meantime, though, our students and their teachers – the entire system, in fact – keep coming in at the bottom end of the global education rankings.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Greek pupils came in 32nd place among the organization’s 35 member-states in 2015, when the last report was published. That was before the four-year SYRIZA administration, so we can only imagine where they’ll rank in 2019. And, judging by the priorities of the new minister, chances are they’ll do even worse in the next four years.
Education Minister Niki Kerameus is neither a nationalist nor an anachronism, as the main opposition propaganda would have it. She is simply interested in her popularity. Before even assuming office, she announced a reduction in the material that will be used in exams, hoping to win the support of parents desperate not to see their offspring wilting under the weight of having to memorize pages upon pages of material by rote. But this is not her job. She should be designing education strategy rather than counting the pages of the Latin books.
Then she started making announcements about the threshold marks in university entrance exams; again, not her job. More recently, she attacked the policies of her predecessor, going on to say that, in her opinion, history classes should be about “shaping a national conscience” rather than having a “sociological character.”
We won’t delve into what constitutes one or the other. Last but not least, Kerameus proclaimed that “school is not just about teaching students [how to read and write] in the narrow sense of the term.” This from the minister of a country where 35.8 percent of pupils cannot solve a simple math problem, according to PISA.
We won’t go into the whole philosophy of education, but surely, at some point, we need a government that will set the simple task of educating our children as its top priority. Given that 27.3 percent of students in Greece have trouble understanding simple texts, there is no point debating the “national” or “social” character of history lessons. The education minister should focus on creating a system that, at the very least, does not make children despise learning, and leave the rest for another time.
Published in eKathimerini.com 8.9.2019