The Education Ministry’s proposal to scrap the teaching of Ancient Greek in high school as part of a wide-reaching overhaul of the country’s secondary education system has triggered yet another public debate among academics, politicians and the media over its merits as an educational tool.
However, several critics also disputed the motives behind the proposal, claiming the main reason behind the shortened school hours and the scrapping of Ancient Greece was more down to teaching staff shortages than an actual desire to improve the language levels of students.
Speaking to state-run ERT TV over the weekend, Education Minister Nikos Filis reiterated his opposition to Ancient Greek being taught in school, saying that the “language not spoken by people in their daily lives cannot be the language that determines the linguistic education of children.”
“It is unnatural to teach Ancient Greek in school,” he said and bemoaned the fact that, under the current system, the ancient language takes precedence over Modern Greek, which has inevitably led to confusion among students and, ultimately, a poor command of the latter.
“We cannot have three hours of Ancient Greek and just two hours of Modern Greek in the first grade of high school,” Filis said while outlining his proposal to reduce school hours in a bid to turn schools into institutions of learning and “not exam centers.”
But the value of teaching Ancient Greek in school was also contested by 56 academics, in a text published by Kathimerini in May, who made the case that Modern Greek is not being taught properly under the current system and that students are getting a “distorted” view of language, as they are forced to constantly make comparisons between what is spoken today and what was spoken in ancient times.
The academics contended that there is no proof in modern linguistic research that suggests that learning a language’s earlier stages will help students have a better command of its contemporary descendant.
However, as was the case with the academics’ text, Filis’s proposal hit a nerve in a country that sees its modern identity inextricably linked to its ancient past in an uninterrupted continuity.
Several leading academics have expressed their opposition to the proposal, saying ancient and modern versions of the language should complement one another.
“There is indeed a necessity to improve the teaching of Modern Greek in high school but this should not be done at the expense of Ancient Greek,” Eleni Karamolegou, a dean at the Philosophical School of Athens, said in an article published in Kathimerini on Tuesday.
“The two versions of our language should and must supplement each other in complete harmony.”