Weighing education

By Maria Katsounaki

The comments made in Friday’s Kathimerini by the Education Ministry’s general secretary for lifelong learning, Gerasimos Spathis, must surely be a joke. Spathis suggested that Greek universities have “demanding courses and long hours” and as such, the Greek teaching system as a whole, and students in particular, would benefit from pegging performance to class hours rather than total workload.

Unfortunately he was not being even slightly sarcastic, but believes profoundly in what he was saying.

Kathimerini’s feature described how the changes being promoted by the Education Ministry could clash with the standards imposed by most European countries for recognizing degrees from tertiary institutions in other member-states.

To illustrate the concerns that the plans are raising, let us just focus on the general secretary’s thoughts about “demanding courses and long hours.”

Surely he must know that every single Greek household is fully aware of what goes on at Greece’s universities.

Recently, for example, a man asked his niece, a first-year history of archaeology student, how many hours of lectures she attends every week. Her answer was 18 hours. He laughed knowingly and told his niece that he had been obliged to attend 42 hours of lectures on a weekly basis during his days as a student at a European university.

But what are hours when, surely, Greek universities have become so much more comprehensive, students are working more closely with their professors and are assigned thought-provoking essays every week, as well as being expected to enhance their level of understanding and knowledge in order to achieve a better result. That’s not true, you say? Speaking in Parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lashed out against the systematic depreciation of state universities. By whom? By the representatives of the neoliberal coalition of 2011 who voted in favor of an education bill tabled back then, he said.

That is why the Education Ministry’s current leadership is promoting reforms at every level of the education system, clearly as a reaction to anything that concerns the notion of evaluation.

And quite rightly too. Because as soon as evaluation enters the picture, arbitrariness is curbed, to a smaller or larger extent.

So how could you possibly say that hours are more important than output without causing waves? Of laughter, at least.