Education in Greece - it's all Greek to me

Saturday, 02 January 2016 at 17:16

I have recently had many reoccurring reflections on my Greek education and felt it was now the time to group all the inconsistencies, difficulties, peculiarities and misconceptions I have come across up to now into textual form in order to further annoy others. This is by no means an objective account, it is merely my perspective of the Greek family and its relationship with education and my ideas and opinions on aspects I dislike. The following text was written in a rather ranty mood. Therefore, dear reader, if you aren't in such a mood or dislike rants, you needn't read on.

Greek parents fantasise over the amount of time their children spend over a book. We become "staring at book" minute counters that go off if the child hasn't remained for a long enough time over a book on a given day. If we could have our child on a drip in a room with a light and the child mechanically iterated over all the school books time after time until it got good grades simply by memorising the answers, we would be the happiest people on earth and go forward to boast about our child as if it was our own achievement. We literally treat our children as if we preferred overfitted machine learning algorithms for sons and daughters.

"But kids these days, they don't study.. They only spend time on computer games and television. And they fail, and it's their fault because I told them to study and they didn't."

This attitude has been prevalent in Greek society up to the time of writing, and really annoys me, and it annoys me for several reasons.

  1. Parents need to understand that they have no stake in the outcome, and should therefore act accordingly. Yes Greek Ma, you have no stake in the outcome, get over it and be more compassionate. It is not necessarily your fault if your children fail and this is also true if they succeed. There is also nothing wrong with not going to university, and there is also nothing special about it either. Many people that didn't go to university are more skilled and educated than people that did, labels and etiquette aren't important, the relationship with your child is.

  2. It is absurd when parents are strict and unforgiving with their children although they themselves never studied, or learned how to learn. How can they themselves be uncompromising, uncompassionate and consider themselves as infallible as the pope?

  3. Obsessing about spending time over a book is moronic. Measuring how much someone has learned is a very difficult task, it is not merely a matter of counting "staring at book" minutes. People learn different things, at different rates, from various sources. And anyhow, even tests and exams can fail at capturing how much someone has learned. However, somehow a Greek mana (mother) can tell by counting how long her child has been in the bedroom.

  4. Computer games and the telly, ironically, sometimes have more to offer than several books. This is likely if you know what to look for and especially likely if the books are badly written in the first place like many of the Greek educational system books are.

  5. The Greek educational system vastly strengthens social inertia by retaining its inherent inconsistencies and contradictions. It manages in such a way to be easily refutable by anyone, and therefore to lack even basic credibility, making parents take matters into their hands and leveraging the weight of education to private schools and lessons (which vastly exploit and exacerbate the problem towards their own interests).

To expand a bit on point 5:

  • Students taking university entrance exams are required to memorise half a book word by word in various lessons. This makes the parents view of studying consistent, since "learning" does truly depend linearly on the time spent over a book. It also encourages plagiarism, for which the poor student will be penalised should he continue to plagiarise in university. Thus the student is praised by the system only to later find himself rejected for the very same practice. And the system babbles on and on incoherently from today's junior to tomorrow's senior.

  • Students are tested on a limited predefined fixed part of the Greek system's book, external sources are unheard of and thus memorising text is encouraged. Meanwhile, in the real world there is no such thing as a predefined amount of things you need to know, your needs are forever expanding. Moreover, only using a single book to study is limiting in so many ways. Especially if you didn't choose it in the first place. How are you expected to learn how to search and read the relevant parts of a book by yourself? How are you expected to judge if a book is worthy of investing time into? And remember, plagiarism is frowned upon in university, but accepted and even strived for in the entrance exams.

  • The Greek educational system focuses a lot on iteration, and less on diversity. I remember having to read a piece of text 5-10 times for homework. What a waste of time that seems to me now, knowing that I could have read 5 different pieces of text by different authors on the same subject.

Finally, I would like to attempt to debunk a few precarious predispositions.

  • Engaging in the act of reading text is beneficial and makes you wiser

    Not necessarily, in fact what you choose to read, ultimately defines who you are to some extent. If you only read drivel, you stand little chance of producing anything else but drivel. If you only read works of a certain point of view, you stand no choice but to acquiesce. Parents have to realise that spending time on something is equally important with choosing what to spend time on. By simply stating to your child that he must study you are in fact being vacuous, lazy, dull, obstinant, unquestioning and repetitive, namely you are being exemplary of exactly the type of behaviour a young learning mind should stay clear of.

    Instead, it would be much more important to point young people in directions which are promising for learning. It is even more important to help someone to learn how to learn, and in order to do this meta learning a lot of diverse examples are needed. We need to learn how to question things, let people err and talk about what you consider to be a mistake in a constructive non condescending non authoritative light. Always remember that you may be wrong, and remind people of this fact. Human beings learn best by trial and error, not by narrative or force. Stop spreading the hereditary "value" of telling your children to study (Διάβασε).

  • The value of memorisation and the perverse obsession the Greek educational system has with it

    Memorisation is for computers, if it were a sign of intelligence computers would have replaced human beings a long time ago. Stale memorisation is not a sign of intelligence, stop testing young people on it and for sanity's sake, keep it clear of mathematics, physics and other quantitative sciences where it is manifest in the form of formula and proof memorisation. Humans can understand, understanding is a superior form of memorisation, so stop favouring lower mundane forms when they can be replaced by higher more intellectual alternatives. Always remember that you can consult the internet, another person or a book for the specifics you don't remember, that's what searching is for. The important features a human being has is that it is able to understand, extrapolate, generalise, compare and contrast. Get the gist. If computers could get the gist, search engines would return a single result. (As of 2016 this is not yet the case)

  • "Learning" facts without processing them isn't learning, it's memorisation

    Facts need to be filtered, expanded, mulled over and contrasted with older existing yet to be debunked knowledge about the world. Consult section above on memorisation.

  • Passing a test means you have succeeded

    If you study simply to pass a test, and don't learn anything in the process, you are furtively failing. Your parents don't know it, you do but act as if you don't. In Greece there is something magical about passing a test, even though it may be a borderline pass. We indulge in overanalysing and being mesmerised by test results and forget that the whole point is to learn and that tests are irrelevant in the end. You can prove you know something if you do, you can't if you don't no matter what certificates and exam results you have.

    There is also another form of Greek educational panic that deserves a paragraph here. Foreign language exams. Premature, overscheduled and overplanned language lessons for young kids in order to make sure they pass their language exams before they finish high school (15 years of age) and have to prepare for the Greek university entrance exams. This panic has become more pointless for several reasons:

    1. You simply aren't mature enough to write a proper essay before high school in your native language, let alone in a foreign one.
    2. Foreign universities require you take the language exam 1-2 years prior to your application. This means that your certificate is useless for applications to foreign universities by the time you reach the right age.
    3. Greek public schools already teach basic English language lessons as a primary foreign language and German or French lessons as a secondary foreign language. These lessons are thoroughly underrated and undermined since everyone sends their children for private language lessons, thus rendering the public lessons boring repeats, echoes of things the child was taught on another afternoon of what would otherwise be its spare time.
    4. Greek high school is flooding kids with content as it is, there is already little time to spare on their frantic schedule without the inclusion of private foreign language lessons.