As the summer holidays draw to a close, parents are heading for the stores with their children to stock up on school supplies, an industry where competition between brand names has reached unprecedented levels from primary right through to senior high school levels. When schools open, the comparisons begin. Children look askance at their classmates who do not have the right bag or stationery. Teasing is not uncommon. Children who are not in fashion are put on the defensive and start complaining to parents. Many believe that this focus on superficial values is nothing more than a reflection of the changing values in society in general. The way children dress and their general appearance at school, said Vasso Artinopoulou, Associate Professor of Psychology at Panteios University, are related to the imitation of values prevailing in Greek society today. Our interest in expensive clothes, showing off our homes and cars, is passed on to the next generation which reproduces consumer values in the school. In fact, exhibitionist tendencies are not limited to high school but are spreading among younger age groups. School bags and other accessories have been selling like hot cakes. Although more expensive, brand names are in greatest demand, said Maria Kontaxi, a sales representative at a large department store. A top brand name school bag costs around 20,000 drachmas, compared to 6,000 drachmas for a more generic one. The corresponding prices for notebooks books are 2,000 compared to 300 drachmas. The most popular names this year are Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio. The competition also includes clothing. Peers have always competed for the fashion stakes, Themis Kotsifakis, who teaches at a technical high school in Halandri, told Kathimerini. The media, magazines and advertisements play a major part. Now all children, irrespective of their family’s financial position, try to keep up with the latest trends. And not only with fashions in clothes and accessories; now there are mobile phones. Children are up on the latest models and keep trading their old phones in for newer ones. Fashions vary from one school to another. In most cases, if you don’t have the right one, you might as well have none at all. Sophia Agiannidi, whose daughter Christina is entering fourth grade in a central Athens primary school, believes most of the blame for the phenomenon, which she described as having reached manic proportions, lies with the parents themselves. Rising costs of education Expenditure on children’s education has reached new heights, according to an Institute of Consumer Protection (INKA) survey released yesterday indicating that each school pupil costs parents between 637,358 and 927,499 drachmas a year in tuition and services which should be provided by the state. On average, families spend about 17.1 percent of their budget on education, double the European Union average of 8.6 percent. The total outlay ranges from 885.6 billion to 1,288 trillion drachmas, most of which is spent by parents of senior high-school pupils, who cost their parents a total of 310 to 454 billion drachmas annually. INKA also drew attention to health costs, given that 77 percent of school pupils eat food on school premises that is considered unhealthy. The survey indicates that 81 percent of children buy food products at school which are actually banned from sale at school canteens. INKA said that about 89 percent of school canteens sell banned products.