Foreign Assistance in Greece

Education in Greece

"....Pregnant of moral virtue was his speech;
and gladly would he learn and gladly teach."

This may have been true in Chaucer's time but I assure you today in Greece this honorable notion is nether moral nor rewarding for both victims in question, namely the teacher and the student. The teacher is a victim of an infrastructure which won't allow one to teach the way one would like to or use the materials available to him/her. The public school high school teacher must teach the standard, pre-ordained (explored further in the section of religion and education)syllabus controlled by the state, ie. the ministry of education and religion. Religion? Yes; Greece is the only country in Europe where the ministry of education and the church are not separated. Indeed, there is no such thing as separation of church and state in Greece. This is is why you'll see a priest at every state ceremony or happening here. When a new school is opened, there is the priest together with high govt. officials cutting the ribbon and inaugurating the school. The school is simultaneously blessed. The next day either the students "forget" to go to class or the teachers go on strike or both. Yes the priest is there at the opening of the new high rise building before cracks appear and structural damage is apparent due to shoddy building materials and so is not allowed to be occupied....but it is blessed; always the priest at a bank opening before the bank goes on strike, and so on and so forth. Our concern here is with education as part of the antiquated, rusted cog of some 19th century wheel trying to keep pace with the fast rolling wheel of Europe equipped with ABS. Why is education in Greece one of, if not the worst in Europe? Why are educators and students alike endlessly knocking it down and bad-mouthing it when they are a part of it? Why did this happen? Here's why:


...opou kai an pas, opou an pas 
edo papas, ekei papas..........

 (wherever you go wherever you go; here is a priest, there is a priest. Greek song.)

In all honesty, and even though I am, by nature  one of the dying breed that still believes in education in its pure form, I see the church's tenacious grip on the school system here as being credible in a sense. There is no doubt that it was the Greek church that kept the entire Greek identity alive during the Turkish occupation which lasted 400 years. This was done through language. The church used language as an integral and vital part of culture and in this way insured the very survival of a country. The teachers in those days were priests and what they taught first and foremost was of a religious nature. For so many generations, young boys and girls received knowledge of their language and culture, against all odds, through the words of the priest who many times was persecuted and had to teach secretly in basements whispering so as not to have his small, humble class exposed to the curious ears of a Turk walking through a dark alley. I take my hat off to the church for this, BUT ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.  The very powerful Greek church now owns almost half the land in Greece, meddles in all walks of public life, has power over even politicians and can influence elections and has done so in the past. Just recently I found out the central tax office on Likourgos St. (also the only one for the AFM or tax no. for foreigners) has moved to the corner of Alexandras and Patission St. It was a huge 10 floor building. They told me the tax dept. couldn’t pay the increase of the rent. The landlords are THE GREEK CHURCH!!

A few years back, I worked with a famous Greek singer/composer, Robert Williams, to write the theme song for the political party called New Democracy, which by the way is in power right now. The party's song had a repeating line which read "Hail Greece, Hail Religion, Hail New Democracy." The song was a hit, what more can be said.

Religion is a required course in all elementary and high school curriculums. That's no wonder, but what annoys me apart from the fact that it's mandatory, is that the book devotes 290 pages to orthodoxy and the last 10 pages of a 300 page textbook, is left for Hindduism, Buddhism, The Koran, Catholicism, and a sentence about the Jews, specifically that they live somewhere where there's war, and that they get killed and that's because they are not orthodox, naturally.

Up until very recently, your religion was printed on your mandatory Greek I.D. card. Heaven help you if on that line where it says religion you state Morman; try and find a job, open a business, get your kid in school. You can of course but is it worth all the sneers, stares, suspicious eyes haunting you all the time? My 1st cousin is a Catholic and she had a hell of a time getting a job in a bank and only got it because her father was at that bank for 30 years. How he got in is anybody's guess. When the Pope came to Greece there were demonstrations on the streets made up of clergy, especially Greek orthodox nuns, citizens shouting , "Go home, Go home, anti-Christ. Go back to Rome where you belong, leave us alone; stop roaming our streets.” You would think Bush came to town. This is how they were educated. State education is in a sorry state. Here are some more reasons:


There will be an explosion in June. There will be mass hysteria. There will be mass demonstrations. All public transport will come to a deathly halt as will the hopes and aspirations of all students and teachers in this holy country. Yes, the safe and pleasurable haven of no work for teacher or student has come to an end.  This shock will not come in the form of space alians in a flying saucer looming over our heads, but in the form of a new bill just passed by parliament which will go into effect in JUNE 2006 which screams its threatening words to the fragile student shaking with apprehension: THE END OF LONG TIME STUDENTS. THE END OF  ABSENSES. THE END OF FREE BOOKS. STUDENTS MUST STUDY; TEACHERS MUST TEACH.

How Horrible! How cruel ! "We will never vote for New Democracy again. They never said anything like this in their pre-election campaign." Please let there be no misunderstanding, I played music for the party for the money, not the ideology. The axe also falls into the core of the much coveted student treasure - immunity. As of June, the army or police are allowed to enter campuses to deal with student unrest.

Here again I am ambivalent and my feelings are mixed about this as they are about the role the Greek church plays in education. On the one hand it was the students whom instigated and quite frankly played a major role in the overthrow of the Greek dictatorship in 1973, but on the other hand, what right do they have to occupy seats in the very limited space available in the few universities Greece has “forever” when there are some would be serious students who can’t get in due to no places available. Here are the staggering statistics as of February 2006: There are 320.000 university students of which 145.000 are “long time” or rather “career” students. Those of you who come to Greece may see them, or rather, will see them. They are everywhere; sitting in cafes sipping the ubiquitous yet almost indigenous “frappe” coffee during school time and their teachers doing the same in another café. They are your typical Greek students, high school and college alike.

There is a deal, a truce, or a secret pact between students and teachers; you don’t have to teach and we don’t tell the principal or dean….you don’t learn and we won’t give you a failing grade or take absenses. Thus this “secret” is a mutual bond straight from the soul of both parties involved. That “deal” has never been broken and up until now has worked for the good of everyone; students who graduate; parents who are happy their darling “wizard” son or daughter became a scholar; and in turn teachers themselves who made everyone happy, including the church, and of course the prime minister who proclaims “our school system needs to buy some new computers but otherwise is a very good system.” So why is the govt. “rocking the boat” now? Very simple Dr. Watsonopoulos; The EU.

By the way, is it by coincidence that the measures will go into effect in June? Ah yes, June; the very merry month of June….or is that May? Anyway, June means school’s out. The poor studious darlings , after a gruelling semester of work, can’t wait to go on vacation; teachers as well. So who is going to be around to demonstrate? Clever, clever government.


I can’t remember how many times Greece was dragged into the European court over the issue of recognition of foreign institutions working in Greece. Can you believe there is a law which to this day still exists despite all effort to change it? It states that no foreign school can be equal with a Greek one. This is stated in the Greek constitution. College and Universities are catagorized by the following: anotera (high) and anotato (highest). In this way Greece has got out of a sticky situation for years. All they had to do was call foreign colleges and universities here anotera, and reserve the category anotato for the Greek schools; and if that’s not bad enough, all foreign schools operate under the license of ergastirio eleftheron spoudon, or workshops of liberal studies. This is the same as a ballet school, pottery making school, basket weaving school, souvlaki making school. Yes all of you with a Ph.D. in physics, you are now allowed to teach sandal repairing. You can open up a school of nuclear-bio-radio-quasar physics next to a souvlaki shop and you share the same license. Isn’t this wonderful? This was until the EU put its foot down and finally addressed the silliness of the situation.  But what can one do when the constitution won’t allow any change? Easy, procrastinate. The govt. acknowledges the problem, is quick to call for a change ---radio, television, papers—but drags it on so that the next govt. can deal with it. This has gone through two governments already and is about to go into the third. Meanwhile Greece is back in court and fined time and time again, and who pays? Of course you know…..So what are these foreign schools doing in Greece? What are they? Whom do they cater to and how do they differ from the Greek schools?


I did my last two years of high school at A.C.S. (American Community Schools of Greece) having been more or less forced here from Lowell High, MA where I was born and raised. Looking back at those years and without falling into the trap called reminiscing, I’ve tried to be objective as to the question,”did I learn anything there?” The answer is a definite YES. Even after eight years of college and university there are some phrases and ideas that have stayed with me even ‘till now. I’ll never forget Bruce Hunt my teacher in Contemporary Problems talking about “where do you draw the line” when discussing the limits of freedom in society. We used to sit in a circle on the floor, no chairs , and talk, and talk, and create. It is from these ideas being freely exchanged that the future of the world depends. How can I forget Michael Peslikis, my music teacher, who, instead of using rote memorization in learning notes kept encouraging us to “feel, feel the music, the sounds.” I felt good and even better when I was awarded the best in music, and also the best in instrumental and chorus music  of 1971. Those certificates still hang on my wall. Indeed the entire school system and the excellent teaching staff, hand picked by the coordinator Mr. Nicholas Econopoly, is so completely different than the Greek system that you could say they bear no resemblance whatsoever.

Apart from my American friends from the school, I also had Greek friends and on occassions invited them to come to one of my classes, of course permission was never denied. They were astounded; yes they were jealous and they had a right to be. The greek system relies solely on rote memorization to teach. It is a way of life for them; it has been imbedded in them for perhaps more than 70 years. Free expression and critical analysis is as strange to them as nothaving absenses or, actually studying. This tragic system of rote memorization follows and haunts them into college and university and finally into the very core of social life. You see this apathetic and dry approach to work in every thread of bureaucracy, in every ministry, in the core of the Greek infrastructure itself. Greeks have been taught not to see “C” but to have to go from A=B and B=C, therefore A=C.  Something obvious is not obvious in the Greek system. When one of my clients whose seeking Greek nationality had his papers from the States as Charles V Lagos, the Greeks called it Charles B Lagos. There is no V in Greek. The end result, I had to go to court and prove that Vasillis is really Basillis. It’s been  3 months now and the court is still confused; no answer yet.

The Greek teachers and students are fully aware of this antiquated approach to learning/teaching and even make jokes about it. They call this approach “papagalistiko” from the word “papagalo” which means parrot. “Polly want a diploma…Polly want a diploma…”

We listen to the various ministers proclaiming how wonderful the Greek educational system is, and how it is equal if not better than foreign ones and yet when upon occasion one of them is asked,” Mr. Minister, where does your child go to school?” the reply is something like….”cough, er…well, you know that my daughter has sinus problems and the doctor advised a dry, cool climate. Believe me that’s the only reason I…..”

That’s the only reason why she goes to a private school is Switzerland?

“Well, yes but…..don’t come down on me so hard, the minister of…..has his son in Harvard. Why shouldn’t I …”

Is it any wonder that the leader of the socialist party here, PASOK, George Papandreou, was educated all the way to university in the US? Any wonder why the former prime minister of the New Democracy party was educated in Germany? Is the Greek system just fine for the Greeks with limited resources but not okay for the rich or the politician’s children?

The question I know you will have is, are foreign schools in Greece recognized in Greece?  The answer is NO! Some schools, careful ,some, are accredited, and recognized abroad but there are some which are not despite a massive advertising attempt to lure the students who do not want to study abroad (can’t leave mother syndrome) but cannot make it into the Greek universities, no room.  These schools are everywhere: “Get your MA from Boston University” “Welcome to N.Y. University” “Get your Ph.D. from this or that University” and so on and so forth.

What really is happening is that a university or college has an agreement at best with an institution abroad promising to “honor” some credits received here at their school there. “Some” could mean 3 or 4 subjects out of 40, but they won’t say that even in fine print. The best of these schools will grant you a BA, again not recognized here, which is accredited abroad; the worst will give you a BA or MA which is not recognized anywhere in the world.One of the good ones or perhaps the best is Deree where I received my BA . It is autonomous, has no branch in the US but is fully accredited in the US and elsewhere, of course not Greece.  There are a handful more which are branches of foreign universities but be careful. Read who accredits them and write an e-mail directly to the mother university and ask if they have ever heard of the branch in Greece; you may be surprised.

One of the few colleges I taught at here had , on the wall as soon as you entered in huge red letters” WELCOME TO BOSTON UNIVERSITY. Being from Boston and knowing a few instructors at the university I asked them to check out this claim. They did. The answer? Boston University never heard of them.

However; one point I do want to make here is that, although there is “monkey business” going on with private schools in this country, the quality of education is much higher than their Greek counterparts. This I have to stress. It is once again free thinking and assimilating versus rote memorization. The calibre of the teachers is quite high and the students seem to be motivated as well as the teachers. I know my experience teaching here was very rewarding even though the pay was not something to write home about. Teachers don’t get paid fairly anywhere and Greece is no exception.

After finishing my graduate studies in N.Y. I wanted to return to Greece and teach so much I could taste it. I guess in this sense it is reminiscing rather than critical observation. I sort of fancy myself as the Oxford squire riding on horseback along with the others on the way to Canterbury.

…and gladly would he learn  and gladly teach.     

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