Greek Education Minister Costas Gavroglou has once again become the epicenter of controversy after Monday’s announcement that he intends to get rid of Latin from the school curriculum and replace it with Sociology.
First it was the Philosophy School of the University of Athens that called the decision “completely wrong and anachronistic,” as the scrapping of Latin will deprive Greek students of precious knowledge that is part of the European identity.
According to Gavroglou, as of June 2020, Latin will no longer be included in the national university entry exams.
This is not the first time the education minister provokes with his decisions, giving the impression that he wants to isolate Greek students from the European environment. Earlier he had banned school excursions abroad, with his reasoning being that poor students would not be able to afford them and that would create social inequalities within the classroom.
In the two years he is heading the ministry, Gavroglou has gone back and forth on the issue of the university entry exams. He has verbally scrapped them several times and brought them back as many.
Last week he announced that he is thinking of allowing students to enter less popular higher education schools without exams. Next week he might say something else, but then again, who can take seriously an education minister who has stated that the problem of drug trafficking in Greek universities can not be solved by the police but only by a “robust student movement” (!).
Also, when a university rector complained about the frequent violent assaults against faculty by students and anarchists, he replied to the rector that he should ask himself what he did as a rector to make the assailants act the way they acted.
The chronic problem of the minister of education seat
Gavroglou is an isolated case. The problem of the ministry of education is chronic. Once a person sits behind the education minister‘s office desk, he is almost immediately transformed into an enlightened being who will correct all the wrongs of Greece’s ailing education system and bring new bills that will carry his or her name. Like the “Arsenis Bill”, or, the latest gem, the “Gavroglou Bill”.
A unique mental disorder must be added in psychology textbooks, called “The Greek Education Minister Disorder”. The specific disorder — with many symptoms similar to those of people who suffer from illusions of grandeur — affects members of the Greek parliament who are appointed to lead the ministry of education.
The thorniest and most enduring issue of Greek education is the anachronistic university entry exams system. High school graduates sit through the exams that would determine whether they enter a higher education institution or not. The vast majority of the difficult exam material is not taught at school but in private tutoring schools at a considerable monetary cost to parents and mental cost to students. The tutoring schools are the unique Greek education anomaly.
But this is not the only anomaly. The performance of the student in the entry exams and the points he or she would gather will determine for which school they qualify.
For instance, if one wants to go to medical school he would have to get at least 19,100 points out of 20,000. If they don’t, they would have to go to a “lesser” school, like the school of physics or engineering. Likewise, one who wants to be a lawyer, may only gather enough points to enter the school of philosophy.
As a result, a good number of Greek students end up at a school they don’t really want. Ambitious wanna-be engineers become mathematicians, or lawyer wanna-bes end up becoming Greek literature teachers, and so on. Dreams are crushed, and career plans go to the trash can as universities fill with disgruntled students.
Since 1974, when democracy was restored after the seven-year junta, 25 education ministers — two of them twice — have been appointed and none of them has done anything about the university entry system. Education ministers have tried to implement reforms to put their name in Greek education history, but not one of them had the vision and the courage to do something about the university entry exam system.
Instead, students have been treated as guinea pigs, with pointless curriculum changes and orientation reforms that leave Greek students poorly educated and as far removed from the job market. The university entry system has changed 11 times in the past 33 years and, for some strange reason, it is still the same.
Another chronic problem is that, often, the education ministry, is given to MPs who have very little to offer to education, but managed to get many crucial votes in their respective district. So the ministry — like most of them — is given to parliament members as prizes, not as a portfolio where they will have to give their best.
Proof of that is that Greece’s education ministry changes almost every time there is a cabinet reshuffle. And most of education ministers try to force their name in Greek political history by doing something “big” for education, and as fast as they can because the average term in the particular office is less than two years.
So far nothing great has been done in Greece’s education system. It drags along, poor and anachronistic, leaving great numbers of poorly skilled, dissatisfied university graduates.
Luckily, there are many brilliant young minds in the IT and business fields that shine despite the shortcomings of the system, while others in science flee abroad where they prosper and do great things in research.