By Alexandra Skaraki
A school on Crete that provides the rare service of catering to both local and foreign pupils is facing the risk of closure following an inspectors' report which highlighted problems such as low student registrations, staff shortages and especially in terms of infrastructure. A campaign to save the institution is now in full swing.
The School of European Education (SEEH), which has 220 pupils, is located in the old city of Iraklio. It was founded in 2005 to provide first-language education to children whose parents are employees at the European Union Agency for Network and Information's (ENISA) headquarters in the city, but nowadays the school also accepts the children of staff at international institutions and diplomatic services personnel. Also, pupils with at least one parent from a European country can enroll.
The SEEH is the only school in Greece that conforms to the curricula of the European Schools Association – Schola Europaea. It is financially supported by the Greek government. Students from across the continent study, conduct research, and learn to appreciate and get to know each other's cultural backgrounds and traditions in this unique environment. Classes are divided into two sections, English and Greek, while the school teaches the full range of grades, starting from pre-nursery to high school.
“The school does have a different curriculum, which is nondenominational and outward-looking rather than being focused on national history and culture. Also, teaching methods are more student-oriented,” said Keith Frankish, co-founder of the “Save the SEEH” blog and petition as well as the father of three SEEH pupils.
The school society initiated a campaign to save it following the release of the Schola Europaea inspectors’ report in March, threatening immediate closure. Frankish and Maria Kasmirli, a parent and teacher at the primary school's English section, started a blog and a petition to spread the word and gain support. “Our aim was to put pressure on the Greek Ministry of Education to make a formal commitment to making the necessary reforms for submission to the meeting of the European Schools Board of Governors in Sofia in early April,” said Frankish, who is also a philosopher and writer.
Parents, students, teachers and ENISA worked closely to raise awareness. “The children made posters, wrote letters to the prime minister and made video presentations. The school community marched through Iraklio to City Hall, where we met the governor of Crete, the regional director of education, and other officials, and presented our case to them. We held a celebration outside St Mark's Basilica in Lions Square, with songs and dances and speeches,” noted Frankish. The campaign has drawn public attention and the petition gathered nearly 3,000 signatures from around the world.
Those who are familiar with the school and its activities argue that it is not only the pupils that benefit but Greece too. “It is a window to the rest of Europe, where people from different backgrounds come together, learn together and share their lives. It builds bond of friendship and understanding between children from across Europe and presents a positive image of Greece to the rest of the continent,” stressed Frankish.
The Greek government promised new facilities through an architectural competition held in 2012, while the district has committed to providing temporary housing in former university premises near Knossos. However, none of this has happened yet. On June 2, when registration had just begun, the ministry sent a report to the school stating that the Greek nursery and first-grade classes will not run next year due to infrastructure problems, contradicting what the government had promised two years ago.
The next day ENISA representatives met with Regional Director of Education Apostolos Klinakis, who stated that the school might be transferred to the Knossos area soon. Klinakis also said that the ministry is seeking to solve the staffing problem by appointing foreign and foreign-language teachers and aims to cancel the decision not to run the first-grade class next year. However, there was no mention of the Greek nursery's future.
The school's major problem concerns infrastructure. Most of the classrooms are housed in a recently constructed building, which however is not designed for the purpose. Some classes are taught outside or even in storage rooms, while language teachers are frequently forced to change classrooms and the school lacks labs and music rooms.
Campaigners say they will keep up efforts to ensure the school remains open. “Parents, ENISA, teachers and students will all continue to work closely together,” said Frankish. “We will continue to raise awareness about the school and put pressure on the government using blogging, homemade videos, talks, social media, letters, public events and celebrations, media exposure and so on. The aim is to make the community aware of our school and its importance for Iraklio, Crete and Greece.”