Survey finds ignorance of language rules

Much has been written about standards in the Greek education system, including teacher training, the system of university entrance examinations, the means of evaluating pupils and teachers, and the occasional rewriting of school textbooks. However, I have never seen a real attempt to lay bare the issue of how capable we are of doing our job as teachers. At a recent conference of teacher-training departments of Greece and Cyprus (October 15, in Patras), where the focus was on the history, quality and development of these departments, I had the opportunity (in cooperation with history graduate Dionysia Papadatou) to present ideas regarding the lack of care (not to say tragic indifference) on the part of the relevant authorities and political leadership regarding the abilities of primary school teachers. Over a 10-year period (1993-2002) we recorded the spelling «gems» found in essays completed by first-year modern history students at Patras University’s primary teacher training department – that is, candidate teachers of pupils at their most crucial stage of development. My conclusion took the form of a question to all those in charge, whether academic or political, as to what kind of teachers are leaving these departments for the country’s primary schools. We combed the students’ essays over the decade in question (to observe the phenomenon over time) and chose those texts that revealed spelling mistakes (roots, suffixes, articles, prepositions) and tendencies to leave off accents. We then counted the spelling mistakes and deviations from the accented system (in the latter case these were counted on the first page only). We also chose and counted texts with over five spelling mistakes and classified them according to the severity of the mistake. We also selected and recorded expressions that we imagined were relevant to the work of a teacher. We found that a large percentage of first-year students, ranging from 20 to 57 percent, had handed in badly spelled and unaccented texts. The percentages were particularly high between 1998 and 2000. The vast majority (68-100 percent) of texts with spelling mistakes also had unaccented words. Over the decade, the percentage of students who failed to accent their texts properly ranged from 31.8 percent to 71.42 percent, peaking in 1996-1998. Of the students who handed in texts with spelling errors, from 21 to 78.5 percent had made more than five mistakes (peaking in 1996). A large percent committed over 10 mistakes, ranging as high as 53. The mistakes were serious ones for a prospective teacher to make. (1) Georgios N. Moschopoulos is associate professor of modern history at Patras University.