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Is hope on the way for public education in Greece?

published 27 January 2015 updated 27 January 2015
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With the motto "Hope is on the way", Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) party won Sunday's snap election, promising that five years of austerity imposed under bailout programmes by international creditors were over. In a country where the economy and wages have shrunk by 25% and youth unemployment stands at 60% among those who are still in the country, the left-wing party won these crucial elections, overthrowing the two parties that had been in power for the last four decades. In his victory speech, the new prime minister dedicated his party's victory to the young Greek scientists, who are currently working or seeking employment outside of Greece and did not make it home to vote. "Our big goal is to bring them back", he said. It is estimated that more than 200,000 young Greeks have left the country since the crisis, a phenomenon referred to by the Guardian as "the biggest brain drain in an advanced western economy in modern times".

But is hope truly on the way for public education in Greece? Syriza has promised a number of both long- and short-term goals for education. On a long-term basis, the main goal is to design and implement a broad reform on public education that will involve dialogue with educators, students and teacher unions. The clear aim of such a reform will be to achieve free, democratic, mass, and quality public education for all. This applies to all sectors of education and especially university education, where research is seen as a public good directly linked to the health and security of the country, the environment and the people. Improving teachers' status is also considered essential for the future, implying that any reform should provide state support, build trust and create a strong network of continuous professional development for teachers.

In terms of immediate measures, Syriza has promised to rehire school guards and university administrative employees illegally fired by the previous government, while ASEP (the Supreme Council for Civil Personnel) and flexible forms of employment will be abolished in favour of permanent jobs in all sectors of education. During the last five years, it was almost impossible to obtain a permanent teaching job, despite the increasingly high number of teachers retiring, and so the school vacancies were filled by part-time or hourly paid contract teachers. The newly elected party advocates the establishment of a single unified type of high school that will combine both theory and practice, while compulsory education will be extended to include two years of pre-school education. National exams for admission to higher education will be abolished for the first and second years of high school, while a democratic restructuring is envisaged for the administration of schools, in which teachers associations, school boards (teachers, parents, students) and education unions will play a crucial role. Last but not least, there are a number of measures designed for university education of which perhaps the most significant is the idea that universities should be public and funded only by the state, with their institutional autonomy fully guaranteed.

It remains to be seen if something will change in the severely damaged Greek education system, which has faced an unprecedented austerity assault. One thing is for sure. Change is necessary as the current situation is untenable. Beginning from a historical change on the political scene, maybe it is not too much to hope for a change in education as well.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.