Focus to be on standards and ‘social responsibility’
Education is a top priority for the government. Intense debate over developments in education is taking place worldwide. Have educational goals changed? The issue of education is at the forefront of debate in many countries of the EU for two reasons. First, because of doubts over whether education today helps people to become wholly integrated into society. Secondly, the focus of concern is the relationship between education and the labor market. Structural unemployment, which afflicts all countries in the EU, is a question that requires an answer. In France, Germany and Britain, there is serious dialogue at this moment. What progress has been made in Greece on the implementation of the Bologna Declaration and the decisions of European leaders at the Lisbon meeting? Unfortunately, Greece is in last place as regards educational policy. It has not implemented a single one of the guidelines drawn up in Lisbon on development, the information society or combating unemployment. For what levels and on what schedule will the national dialogue on education, starting in September, be held? It’s open-ended. All levels will be involved. We will be talking with everybody, with the educational community, with society, with parents’ organizations. We will set scientific criteria and questions… we need to have said beforehand what prerequisites are needed by a young person today in various areas, especially in the field of technological developments… We thus need to set criteria, such as that this country, through its human resources, must meet various challenges: reducing unemployment and linking higher education to the labor market. How are we to set about this, in what ways, with transitional measures? How are we to strengthen teacher training? At this moment, the loudest slogan to be heard all over the world is education for the educators. In full awareness that we are living in a globalized world – I’m not talking about economic globalization – we must provide opportunities and meet the existing challenges. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. Are you setting any deadlines? Obviously, it won’t be a dialogue without end. In any case, we have a basic core program. Some of the issues that need to be tackled immediately (senior high exams, etc.) will be dealt with by a bill to be tabled in June. What I want to say is that here, in this ministry, we don’t aim to discuss what we usually call «measures» in Greece. We will see as we go along which we will be able to implement immediately, which will need to be moved forward slowly, and chiefly to set certain goals, within a certain time limit. When large countries have embarked on a national dialogue, entirely well disposed and without narrow party prejudices, why shouldn’t we? Has the ministry made preparations to submit its proposals to the bodies involved? First of all, preparations are still on the level of ideas. Let me clarify that the ideological level is how to respond to the situation and how we will give young people more possibilities and opportunities. We will undertake some pre-consultations with the academic community, which will take place within certain time limits. We will also be making preparations over the summer. All other things being equal, (we hope to) increase the percentage of GDP spent on education to 5 percent over the four-year period. Will evaluations be conducted throughout the system? Evaluations will be conducted throughout the system; I say this loudly and clearly. And when I say evaluation, the aim is not to throw anyone out of the system, but to see whether the goals we have set have been achieved. Employability is directly connected to the quality of post-school and tertiary education. The system, however, has major problems. We should say in all frankness that in a free country, no one can be prevented from acquiring the necessary knowledge. Today, the labor market often requires knowledge that is not taught either at university or at technical college. When we see that unemployment rates are growing and the employment index is climbing very slowly, we realize that there is social responsibility for the… efficiency of our educational institutes. In the past, there was a kind of taboo on universities discussing issues that were related to production, the labor market and enterprises. Today, I think that we all understand that there must be such a synthesis. This does not entail tackling the issues in a dry way, as questions of vocational training. It concerns what I called social effectiveness. Our educational system, that is, needs to be socially effective. Thus the first thing that we have to do is to strengthen educational institutes – of every kind and on all levels – so that they perform to the maximum. How will these institutions be strengthened? I believe we have to grant greater self-sufficiency to tertiary education institutes, and make the system face its social responsibilities. If a system with certain faults is injected with more cash, it might paper over the cracks, but it can’t change the content. The universities have major infrastructural shortcomings, with the result that buildings are unable to accommodate the existing number of students. How do you aim to do deal with this? It is true that especially schools which require a large number of laboratories, technological schools, have large numbers of students and not enough facilities. We must see, together with the universities, how we can increase the possibilities for students to get real training. I think… we should not want people with qualifications that do not meet the demands of the times. Will you adopt the proposal by the universities for a ceiling on the number of university entrants? First of all, we must show young people new fields of work. In short, there should be help in career orientation – new schools and new sectors opened. At the same time, we will accept views by the universities on substantial education of the young that are properly backed up. In addition, we have to respond to the matter of vocational training… University lecturers are complaining about entrants’ standards. They lack knowledge of basic concepts and many universities are forced to teach basic principles in the first year. You’re absolutely right, but it’s not the kids’ fault. Reforms all took place through the exams in the third class of senior high. We need to start at kindergarten. Are the kids to blame for the books? Right now, there is a program to have the books changed which was started by the last administration. Is it the kids’ fault that the books that were brought out in the early 1980s… were based on faulty criteria? From there on, there is the issue of teacher training. It is exceptionally important, not only in computer science, where a large number of teachers have received training. Is it possible for anyone to claim that without lifelong learning in an era of rapid change, a teacher can live up to expectations and benefit the child? Will technological education be strengthened? We must reinforce the technical colleges and change the technical high schools so that they become proper vocational high schools with access to tertiary education. Over the last few years in Greece, certain professions have dropped in social status. There is a narrow view that we all have to become, say, doctors, because only they have social status. I am a doctor and I don’t believe it. I believe that anyone who does their job properly has social status. And there are sectors that pay a lot better than doctors. But both young people and teachers must have that information. The child must be allowed to develop his own personality and be able to choose.