Lowering one’s sights: Is it realistic or defeatist?

Under the previous system, candidates first declared their choice of universities and faculties before learning their examination results. As a result, about 7,000 candidates put Athens Law School as their first choice in 1996, but only 3,125 in 2000 and 2,066 last year. Another 5,500 chose Athens Medical School in 1996 but only 2,346 in 2000 and just 929 last year. The business research and marketing department of the Athens Economic University attracted 11,115 candidates in 1996 but only 2,785 in 2000 and just 1,304 last year. So the new system of announcing scores before candidates apply for their choice of schools led to candidates applying to schools demanding base scores slightly lower than their own and then to schools with even lower base scores. This «coming down to earth» would not have such a negative effect on candidates’ futures if it were not an indication of a defeatist attitude, as very few make any attempt to improve their scores by trying again the next year. Repeating examinations in nine or 10 subjects is a trial that candidates do not want to think about. Under the old system, candidates who failed to achieve the scores required by their first choice of school sat the exams at least one more time. The law allows 10 percent of tertiary places to go to high school graduates from previous years, on the basis of their scores achieved on graduation, without requiring them to sit the exams again. In 2000, the base scores rose dramatically, but in 2001, as school marks dropped to 30 percent of the total score and the examination questions became more difficult, the base scores were lowered, falling even further the following year as the weight given to school marks was reduced even further. So in 2003, 10 percent of places will go first of all to high school graduates from 2000 who have not grown tired of waiting, then to graduates from 2001, and finally, to those from last year. About 81.5 percent of preferences (of any priority) for tertiary institutions went to those with base scores of between 3 and 15. Institutions demanding scores of between 15 and the top score of 20 received applications from only 18.5 percent of candidates. For example, the School of Electrical Engineering at the National Technical University received 6,176 applications, compared with 15,093 for the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Technical College (TEI) in Kavala, where the score requirement was far lower. This by no means indicates that candidates had decided to choose careers where they were more certain to find jobs, but simply that candidates have accepted their levels of achievement and opted for schools accepting lower marks so as not to miss out altogether on a tertiary education, although there are exceptions. Very few of the 83 percent of candidates in the science stream or the 84 percent of those in the technology stream who scored below 15 in 2002 would even dream of applying to a law faculty or a technical university. In any case, a school’s popularity is apparent from the number of applicants within the 10 percent who obtain places on the basis of previous years’ results. At Athens University’s School of Dentistry, the number of points for 2002 for those in the 10 percent was 19,259, down just 163 points from 19,422 in 2001, indicating that demand is still high, as was the standard among candidates. On the other hand, the base score at the Athens School of Dental Technicians dropped from 17,306 points in 2001 to 12,735 last year. So year by year, the new senior high school system is moving away from its original goals. The most recent amendment which theoretically allows a student who hands in blank sheets in the state examinations but who gets 19 out of 20 in his school marks to move up into the next class will lead to a complete loss of credibility. The price will have to be paid for by the country’s universities and technical colleges, where approximately 80 percent of students will be attending schools they don’t want to be in. At some point they will complete their studies and get their degrees for a career they are not interested in. Their families will then either have to pay the cost of further studies or just hope for the best. The crisis in the education reform process is evident in a statement released by the state teachers’ federation (OLME) in July of last year that left no room for optimism. When a modern, democratic and liberal education system does not serve the demands of the time, but is stripped of the need to create free individuals able to determine their own future, then it can only spuriously be described as a democratic education. When young people are forced to lower their sights and compromise their dreams, then the system is definitely in trouble. It is therefore time for all the relevant authorities to take an honest look at the situation and rectify the education system. Schools of old were restrictive and undemocratic and made no bones about it, but the school of the present – supposedly anti-authoritarian and liberal – appears to be lacking in the ability to inspire young people to make the right decisions about their future.

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