We’re grateful to have received this analysis of the present situation for education in Greece from the leader of the secondary teachers union, OLME. OLME was in the forefront of struggle through the long period of brutal ‘austerity.’ His message is one of hope but is also clear that the fight is not over: ‘the future does not come by itself.’
All teachers were relieved by the political change in January 2015.
Iron fences and riot police were removed from the centre of Athens, the House of Parliament and the Ministries’ buildings restoring thus the spirit of democracy that should be emitted from a European capital city. We all felt – despite what each voted – that we are at last taking a breath. We are taking a breath of democracy feeling that several things in our country – and particularly in Education – can be changed.
In the last five years, the memorandum policies of austerity and cuts have brought the public schools and the teachers in a tragic situation. And the same has happened for all social goods including health, social insurance and social welfare. These five years were marked by cuts in public spending, suspensions – layoffs of public servants, closing of schools, authoritarianism in evaluation and disciplinary law, as well as by anti-educational changes.
In our country the implementation of memorandums was nothing more than a laboratory producing extreme, neoliberal policy. The social consequences of this policy are dramatic for working people; but they are even more dramatic for the most vulnerable group of citizens, the young people. Young people unemployment mounts to 60% currently, the percentage of NEET (no education, no employment, no training) in young people reached 21% in 2012, while the poverty index and social exclusion for young people under 18 reached 35,4% in the same year.
The recent announcements in the Parliament by the new political leadership of the Ministry of Education include: a) reduction of the examination load, abolition of the existing test bank and change of the current examination system, b) restoring the abolished sectors in the Vocational High Schools (EPAL) and reinstating suspended teachers in their former teaching positions c) freezing of the evaluation process d) abolition of admission examinations in Experimental and Model Schools e) promise of real, meaningful consultations about future educational changes. All the above are clearly in a positive direction and their implementation creates expectations for a brighter future in public schools.
It is clear, however, that to reverse the situation within the public educational system in a way that the needs of young people and of society at large are met, strong efforts sufficient funding, proper training and a sound educational plan are required.
The struggle for a ‘Different’ school is going on by setting priorities:
- To preserve free, public education aiming at a well-balanced and multi-sided development of young people’s personality,
- To redefine educational policy placing emphasis on humanitarian values,
- To reinforce democracy in schools with the participation of teachers and students,
- To fight discrimination and exclusion and to respect children’s rights,
- To claim an increase in public spending for education, even during the crisis. Investing in education is the most certain way to exit the crisis. It is an investment in a better future.
- To fight for the improvement of working conditions and teacher salaries, as well as of the scientific and social structures that support their work.
Finally we must fight, in collaboration with our colleagues in all European countries, to stop neoliberal policies all over Europe which affect public education among other social sectors.
For a Free, Public Education for All, without giscrimination.
With the confidence that “the future will not come by itself if we don’t work for it.”
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