Thursday, 22 August 2013

Looking through the window

Greek education is in the news again today: yesterday it was about striking teachers, today it's about the new state guidelines for the curricula of junior high school (γυμνάσιο - yim-NA-si-o, with three classes: A', B' and Γ', meaning 1st, 2nd and 3rd class) and senior high school (λύκειο - LI-ki-o, again with three classes).

We find a parallel system of the public versus the private sector working in education, just as we have parallel systems for every other sector in Greek life. Generally speaking, kids go to public school during the day, while they go to private classes to supplement the SAME knowledge in the afternoon. (As a non-education example, the obvious one is in health: the nurse paid through the hospital - ie the public sector - on the ward administers medicine, but the nurse who washes the infirm is paid for privately by the patient or their family - and only if you can afford it, of course). During the summer, they do cramming classes at the same institutes. All this entails that they can afford the lessons, and many children can't these days. For the last 15 or so years, the Ministry of Education has bene offering supplementary afternoon classes (ενισχυτικά -  e-ni-schi-ti-KA, literally 'reinforcements', which are free. (I have been told that my kids' junior high school will also offer such lessons, but of course with so many changes taking place in education at the moment, we will have to see what hasn't been scrapped when school terms starts).

Are these extra lessons necessary? Most people - including the public-school Greek teachers themselves - will say that they are. Since I haven't sent my kids to such institutions, I can't really have an opinion. One thing I can say is that if your children are academically inclined and you want to help them along the way to get into university, no matter where you are, whether you live in Greece or not, if you can afford it, you will go that extra mile to help them. So in a sense, these lessons have their use. What differentiates Greece from most other European countries is that there is something unnatural about sending kids to school during the day, with more lessons in the afternoon/evening, not to mention the money needed for this to happen: in Greece, such lessons usually start at junior high school, because kids have to pass exams to get into the next level of each class.

I've just checked the .pdf files with the state guidelines for gimnasio, and I am not surprised to see GREEK LANGUAGE studies at the top of the list for both cases.
Timetable for junior high school (gimnasio) in Greece (Α' Β' Γ' refers to 1st 2nd 3rd class)

'Greek Language and Literature' is divided into two parts: 'Modern Greek Language and Literature' and 'Ancient Greek Language and Literature'. Modern Greek Language and Literature is covered by 2 hours of 'Language Instruction' and 2 hours (per week, presumably) of 'Modern Greek Literature' while Ancient Greek Language and Literature is covered by 3 hours of 'Ancient Greek Language' and 2 hours of 'Ancient Greek Texts and Translation'. So that means 9 hours of Greek language studies in total, with more than half My kids are gonna be doing more hours of Ancient Greek than Modern Greek! 

The painful process of progress is very slow in Greece. It will eventually happen because there is only one way to go, and that is forward, but it will simply happen at a very slow pace here. Greeks are finding it difficult to go forward because they are constantly looking over their shoulder to see what they left behind, and this is even being reflected in our education system, with children as young as 12 learning more Ancient Greek at school than Modern Greek.

the acropolis athens
One of my best photographs of the Acropolis hill, taken from Arios Pagos. I still like to tell my kids that i have actually walked inside the Acropolis, something that is no longer allowed.

As Greeks, we carry a great weight on our shoulders - that of our glorious past. We are constantly worrying that it is fading away, becoming less tangible to us, and we are forever looking for ways to keep it alive. We know how much Western civilisation was founded on it, and how much it is still revered in all academic faculties. We still haven't found that χρυσή τομή that will let us live in both worlds equally harmoniously, but when we do, I think that that will be the turning point for this country. We won't be looking so much in the mirror then; instead, we will be looking through the window. It pays to remember how Orpheus lost Eurydice forever:
Orpheus travelled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone (he was the only person ever to do so), who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following, and, in his anxiety, as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time, but now forever.
BONUS INFORMATION: Orpheus and Eurydice are beautiful ancient Greek names, and they are still in use today in their modern Greek forms. I have a friend whose son is called Orfea, and an older female friend whose name is Evridiki. 

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