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Greece is falling behind in education

By Nikos Konstandaras

“Helen rode her bike from home to the river, which is 4 km away. It took her 9 minutes. She rode home using a shorter route of 3 km. This only took her 6 minutes. What was Helen’s average speed, in km/h, for the trip to the river and back?”

This is a sample question similar to those which 15-year-olds from 65 countries were called on to answer in last year’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), whose results were published earlier this week. The question is from Level 6 of the math section of the test. The other parts involved reading, science and problem solving. An average of 3 percent of students from the participating countries reached Level 6 or above. In the Shanghai region, 31 percent reached this level. In Germany, 5 percent. In Greece 1 percent.

The first seven places in the global rankings were taken by Asian countries, with China participating with separate areas. Shanghai was first, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macao and Japan. After them came Liechtenstein, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Estonia and Finland. For Greece, the problem lies not only in the fact that Asian nations have taken education so seriously that they are leaving everyone else behind, nor in Greece’s remaining below the OECD program’s average. The basic problem is that Greece has been part of the program since 2000, when our education system’s weakness became startlingly apparent, and we should have improved our performance by now. It is inconceivable that whereas in 2009 Greece was in 25th place, in 2012 it fell to 42nd. Although our students showed an improvement in mathematics, other countries did much better. Among EU members, only Romania, Cyprus and Bulgaria ranked (just) below Greece.

It is clear that the Greeks were not sufficiently alarmed in 2000, when, among 31 countries, our students ranked 28th in math and 25th in reading and natural sciences. Our education officials – politicians and teachers – were stunned. Then they argued that the examination was based on “Anglo-Saxon” perceptions and were irrelevant to us. They went on their way, without examining their responsibilities, without taking the measures that other countries took.

We did not seek ways to improve teaching methods and programs, nor did we look into the training, evaluation and rewarding of teachers. While other countries invested in teachers, tried giving schools greater autonomy while concentrating on erasing inequalities among schools and students, we let things slide. Nor did we strive for closer cooperation between teachers, principals, students and parents. We see the result.

In an international environment that keeps getting more competitive and more uncertain, our children are losing ground. Not only will they have to pay off debts for which they are not responsible, they will have to do it without the education that they deserve.

Helen’s average speed was 28km/h. What is Greece’s? , Thursday December 5, 2013 (18:25)  
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