The exorbitant price of ‘free’ education in Greece

The long wait will soon be over for thousands of families eagerly awaiting the Education Ministry’s announcement, due at the end of the month, of the baseline grades for entry into the country’s universities and technical colleges. Obtaining a place in a state tertiary college represents, both for the children and their families, a vindication of 12 years of effort, and secondly, of money spent. For although the constitution guarantees free education and the State claims that it is striving to improve state education, parents assume an enormous financial burden once their children begin school, spending a total annual amount of 773.4 billion drachmas, not including private school fees, on education. Moreover, there is effectively no choice about whether or not to send a child to a cramming college or even, if family finances allow, to have private lessons to prepare for university entrance exams. Nine in 10 senior high school students attend a cramming college, despite promises by the State to wipe out the black market in education. What is more, these colleges have been expanding to the point where they can almost be seen as private schools. The educational reforms of the past few years have contributed to this trend, with the number of subjects examined nationwide now standing at nine. Surveys also indicate that even at junior high school level, four in 10 pupils either go to a coaching college or take private lessons. Greek families pay a total of 365.4 billion drachmas every year for private lessons and coaching colleges and another 390.4 billion in other extras for school lessons. Teachers giving private lessons earn an estimated total of 240 billion drachmas, which also represents an enormous black hole in the State’s income. Then there is the question of foreign language education in Greece. Children begin learning English in the fourth year of primary school, but the quality of language teaching is so low right through the state system that any real acquisition of foreign language proficiency can only be obtained privately. Learning English As a result, according to a survey by foreign language institutes, eight in 10 primary school pupils go to a private institute to learn a foreign language, usually English. Foreign language examinations and certificates cost Greek families another 7.5 billion drachmas per year. In all, about 200.5 billion drachmas is spent every year on foreign language education. More and more parents are also paying (to the tune of 182.5 billion drachmas annually) for other extracurricular activities, such as sport, computers or music, for their children. Coaching colleges, private tutoring and extra subjects Nearly all senior high school pupils attend coaching (or cramming) colleges, particularly in the second and third years as they prepare to compete for a place at university. A Thessaloniki University survey found that 40 percent of junior high school pupils either go to a coaching college or have private lessons. Junior high pupils spend on average 300,000 drachmas a year, given that the monthly fee is around 30,000 drachmas per month over an academic year of about 10 months. In senior high, the fees rise to around 60,000 drachmas monthly. According to the coaching colleges association (OEFE), their turnover for 1999-2000 was 116 billion drachmas, paid by 260,000 pupils. Around 124,000 junior and senior high school pupils get private tutoring, whether individually or in groups, with each paying out about 180,000 drachmas per month. One in 10 senior high pupils attend official state coaching colleges. Another 182.5 billion drachmas is spent on other extracurricular activities and additional expenses. Stationery and extra books cost parents about 100,000 drachmas a year on average. Some 640,000 primary school pupils spend about 64 billion drachmas a year on these materials. Younger kids with more free time on their hands are likely to take up other lessons. According to researcher Christos Katsikas, 10 percent of primary school pupils takes dance lessons, 13 percent music lessons, and 15 percent other activities. He estimates 14 billion drachmas is spent on these pursuits every year. As pupils enter junior high, their parents’ outlay on their education increases accordingly; expenses such as non-school books, sports, lessons in a second foreign language, or computer science training, perhaps including an Internet link, lead to an average outlay of 150,000 drachmas per month. Some 370,000 junior high school pupils spend a total of 55 billion drachmas a year on these activities, whereas the figure for senior high students is 49.5 billion. Foreign languages It is an accepted fact in Greece that a large slice of the family budget has to be put aside for foreign language courses. In 1985, there were no more than 2,000 foreign language institutes in Greece. Today there are over 7,000 of them. Private expenditure on foreign language teaching is almost mandatory, given the scant attention given to the subject in state schools. According to PALSO, the association of foreign language institutes, eight in 10 primary school pupils are learning a foreign language – usually English – at a private institute. Total outlay is up to 193 billion drachmas annually, including fees and books. If one includes examination fees (about 7.5 billion drachmas), the total cost is as much as 200.5 billion drachmas annually. Added to that is the cost of private lessons and stationery, amounts that cannot easily be estimated. PALSO estimates that about a million children are learning foreign languages, each paying about 163,000 drachmas a year for that purpose, a total of 163 billion drachmas a year, not including the cost of private lessons. Books run another 25,000-40,000 drachmas per class, making a total market outlay of about 30 billion drachmas yearly. Private language lessons cost anything from 3,000 to 10,000 drachmas per hour. According to unofficial PALSO estimates, over 150,000 children are learning a foreign language from a private tutor, but it is extremely difficult to be precise about the amount of money paid out in this sector. About 150,000 language students sit for Cambridge First Certificate or Proficiency examinations, each paying about 30,000 drachmas. Another 50,000 sit for French diplomas (32,000 drachmas) and 20,000 for German diplomas (40,000 drachmas). Another 50,000 sit for the PALSO certificates.