Letters and numbers
Reading and writing are among the first skills Greek children learn in primary school. However, they won`t learn to write A`s, B`s and C`s, but Alpha`s, Beta`s and Gamma`s. Only by the time they start learning English they will get familiar with the Latin characters. Before then, it`s the Greek alphabet they learn. What else do young Greeks learn in the country where schools are not named but numbered?
Young people can nowadays hardly do without the Latin letters. `WWW`, the abbreviation that precedes many website addresses, does not have a transcription into Greek symbols. Most other Latin letters do have a Greek version, and the same is true for the reverse order. Greek has single letters for the Latin equivalents of ps, th and ph. It has two versions of both O and E to reflect long and short variants of these letters. There is no difference between Latin C and Latin K. Both automatically become K, which explains why Cyprus does not start with an S sound in Greek.
`It`s hard to find jobs in Greece that do not require you to be able to speak English`
First twelve years
So much for the script.. Greeks start going to school at the age of 6. They will keep following education at least until the end of lower secondary school, at the age of 16. Parents will encourage their offspring to at least also complete three years of higher secondary school. Beside subjects that are common in other European countries, pupils in secondary school can expect four years of courses in Ancient Greek language and Ancient Greek culture. The Ancient Greek language courses will not help them a lot in daily life, as Ancient Greek is significantly different from Modern Greek. It does offer them access to the culturally rich past of Greece and the resulting art and literature.
Other secondary school subjects are likely to include Anthropology for one year, while the rest of the program is made up of the usual subjects: mathematics (algebra and/or geometrics), history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology, languages and physical education.
Making it through all six years of secondary school is required from pupils who want to qualify for higher education, which most of them do. Notes on the final exam from secondary school decide how much freedom they have in choosing the location and the institute where they will study.
Financially speaking, there are hardly any reasons not to continue studying at the age of 18 or 19. Higher education is free of charge, and so are the study books. That is: they are supposed to be free, but there is always a shortage so many students end up buying their own books. Syllabi made up of teachers notes are available, but need to be paid for as well.
Labrini (21) and Vasia (19), two management students, are happy to be exempt from most of the costs of studying: `Our parents do not have a high income, so the state also pays for our accommodation. It`s not the best, but it`s on the university terrain. We officially need to pay 5 euro of compensation, but we don`t do that`, they say.
Getting into university seems to be more difficult than obtaining a degree. Many students are not granted the location they mark as a first choice and are therefore obliged to move to another city. One alternative is to go to private university, but students pay more and will be handed the same kind of diploma as ordinary university. Oftentimes, they even have problems getting their diploma officially recognised. Another option for people who do not meet entrance requirements for university is to settle for the Technological Institute. The overall intellectual level of courses at the Technological Institute is thought to be lower, with practice and application having priority over the more scientific approach.
Some specialist courses the Institute offers are not available in university, and the respective diplomas may be accepted by employers as representing an academic level. For any course offered in both university and the Technical Institute, the university degree is held higher in esteem. An architecture student graduating from the Technical Institute, for example, may be hired in restoration services. A university graduate in the same subject is more likely to actually end up working as a fully equipped architect.
Quality of education
Although lectures in higher educations are generally given in Greek, a lot of study material is presented in original languages. For most subjects, that is English. For architecture, it may well be Italian or Spanish. Maria (27, photo) explains that the level of language education in secondary school is largely insufficient for students to make anything out of their studies. Parents are usually ahead of the problem, sending their children to privately run language schools by the time they are anywhere between 8 and 12 years old.
Maria tells: `My mother did not have a chance to study and she knows what came of that. Speaking English is required for many jobs in Greece, even though you may never use it in practice. Employers are on the strong side. It`s them setting the requirements, not the people looking for work. Most parents prepare their children by sending their kids to these language courses. That will be several times a week after regular school hours, in an institute closest to the parental home, or the one that is cheapest.` Maria was never fond of her language classes the time, but regrets that now: `At the time, I didn`t see the use of it, now I also want to learn Spanish and Portuguese. And people who did not start learning English back then now have to turn to expensive individual lessons and learning languages becomes more difficult when you grow older.`
`There is one big default to the Greek education system`, Maria explains: `You are always taught what and how, but very few teachers want to tell you about the why. Most teachers seem to come to school just to get paid and with no other objective. I do remember one teacher who was different though. It was my teacher of literature, who would not ask about the intentions of the writer of a poem, but just about what we thought of while reading it. He also taught us to write stories and still nowadays, releases the results of his students` efforts in a book every year. In Greece, people who do things in a different way are usually cut short and made shut up, but in this case, he was employed by the school and the school did not care about what he taught as long as they had a teacher. So he got away with it.`
Christina (18) thinks that teachers in Greece should be younger, so they have better contact with their pupils: `No special skills are required for teachers in secondary school. They just need to have a degree in the subject they teach. Then they are supposed to get experience in a school assigned to them, and that`s it.` Iannis (18) is less precise and more negative about the school system: `It sucks! here are no rules and you can do whatever you want. Tutors who are supposed to help you don`t, and nobody calls the parents when children don`t show up.`
I wonder if school days in Greece are interrupted by lengthy lunch breaks and expect to get a confirmative answer. Iorgos (22) tells me such is not the case: `For primary and secondary school, our classes started at 8 and finished at 2 in the afternoon. So everybody just goes home for lunch, not to come back to school in the afternoon. Until then, they can eat something inbetween classes, but they only have five to ten minutes for that.`
Chrisula (22) tells me that Greek students are not fond of rushing through their studies: `Most study programs are supposed to take four years, but students easily take six. Parents are usually only prepared to pay for the expenses of the first for years, so taking longer means having to work on the side.`
Luckily for laggards, the number of resits for any given subject is almost endless. Why get nervous about something once if you can worry about it twice? Especially if you like to complain about how the studies are taking so much of your precious time. And so university not only teaches them the subject they selected, it also inaugurates them to the Greek life style of always having something to do, always having something to stress about, always having something to complain about and always looking forward to the next moment to do nothing.
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