At more or less the same time every year, we see the same images of high school graduates looking through the Education Ministry’s lists of those who passed and those who failed the national university entrance exams – some smiling, some disappointed – along with media reports about which institutions proved more popular and how many graduates made it into the country’s technical colleges and universities, and so on. The discussions about how many credits were needed to enter which schools quickly die down to be replaced by those about whether the registrations will go smoothly or not and whether students or teachers will go on strike, ending with questions about how the school year will evolve and whether examination periods and semesters will go as planned or be interrupted by one protest action or another.
Every year, of course, has it own unique characteristics. This year, for example, the number of students applying to be transferred from institutions on the islands and in the provinces to others closer to home has skyrocketed and pushed up the number of credits needed to enter universities in the periphery. What this means is that someone who has applied to study medicine at Alexandroupoli, where fewer credits were needed last year, but intends to transfer to Athens is at risk of not getting a place at all. Basically, the Greek penchant for playing the system nullifies the measure itself, even though the measure essentially benefits those with political connections rather than the children from poor families that it is supposed to do.
What do you tell a student who worked hard to make the grade to make into a university in Athens? That yet one more decision made behind closed doors was presented as being in favor of society when in fact it actually prepares teenagers for what equity means in Greece?
And so, across the country, the issues of education are dispensed with by way of procedures that are more ritualistic than effective and the real problems are left unaddressed. Top among these is the use of rote learning throughout the Greek educational system, a practice inspired by the democracy of mediocrity, pushing the standards down further and further. By the time students get into university they are well-tuned memory machines, trained in rote from first grade up.
Who would disagree with the observation that the quality of teaching in tertiary education has declined and that students are just going through the motions? And what does producing university graduates who can’t think for themselves mean for the country?
Yet there is no public dialogue on this important matter. It has been drowned out by dogmatism that rejects criticism and by loud populism.
When education is defined in terms of exams based on rote, we really shouldn’t be so happy for those who made it in.