Friday, 16 September 2011

Back to school - (ish)

So this week, they’re finally back where they should be.
After THREE WHOLE MONTHS off (you hear that, Brit Mums who tear their hair out at the thought of 6 weeks of summer hols?), Greek schoolkids returned to their classrooms this week.
Well, sort of.

Sure, they’re turning up at the school gate at 8am and reporting for registration. But that’s about the size of it. Some lessons have started – the ManChild has had homework for Maths, Ancient Greek and Biology so far – but it’s without the benefit of text books.

Yes, dear reader, you heard me right.

For, as the Ministry of Education announced when the long Greek summer drew to a close, the school books are not ready to be distributed to pupils in September. And if what the school told our son this week is true, they won’t be until Christmas.

So, that means three months of lessons without text books then?
Alrighty. Cue a load of grinning kids. And an army of anxious adults.

The good news is that the material IS available on a CD which the kids have been given to upload to their computers. But even if every Greek household had a PC (they don’t), the success of this Plan B depends largely on the ability and willingness of the teaching staff to use virtual teaching materials.

I, for one, have my doubts.

Much as I revere and admire the best of the teaching profession (and I really do, believe me), the truth is that it contains at least as many lumps of coal as it does diamonds. And in Greece, many are conditioned to resist change no matter what.

Two years ago, amid much glorious fanfare, it was announced that all children entering their first year of Lower High School would be given a notebook PC, which would be loaded up with the teaching materials for the three years to see them through to the start of Upper High School. My son was one of those to benefit from this Brave New World initiative.

Great! You might say (as indeed, did I). Now, that’s progress.

Only it wasn’t. Most teachers spurned the online teaching material and just carried on doing what they’d always done. I think the only lesson my son used the virtual textbook for was…. (wait for it)….. History. Everything else was taught from the book, in the old school fashion - including Technology.

In the end, a year of High School students were given a free PC on which to play online games and up-date their FaceBook status. OK, as a result they’re all much more Internet-savvy – an essential for whatever future awaits them, I suppose – but not much cop in terms of schoolwork.

The following year, the programme was discontinued and no more notebooks were issued to the nation’s 12 & 13-year-olds.

OK, so the credit crunch and the agonising bite of the crisis probably would have put paid to it anyway. BUT even the kids who got their free notebooks haven’t seen the educational benefit – cos most teachers simply didn’t put it into action...
...and now it’s just a matter of time before the strikes start.

Things are better in the paid education sector – hardly surprising, when there’s a profit to be made. In Greece, like it or not, every family pays for at least part of their kids’ education, even if they attend State school, for the frontistirio (evening school) is as much a part of Greek life as ouzo and the Acropolis.

This week, after-hours English lessons started with a vengeance, rapidly draining parents’ pockets of hard-earned dosh to pay annual registration fees, monthly tutorage and the cost of the hugely over-priced text books (75 Euros for two books? Are you kidding me? One is less than a quarter-inch thick and a state curriculum tome of the same size would cost a tenth of the price. Gee, don’t you just love a monopoly?).

We also have to cough up for music lessons, any extra-curricular sports the ManChild will dive into - and now he’s asking about Spanish lessons.

So, yes, school’s in. But don’t worry. The kids are alright.

It’s the parents I worry about.


  1. This is incredible! I suddenly feel very fortunate to have all the books I need to teach, even if they do have to do the 'one between two' thing!

  2. good lord, there's complicated and expensive for you!

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