Fifth-graders to choose between French, German

A second foreign language, after English, will be on the Greek primary school curriculum as of next year. Sources say the Education Ministry will offer fifth-grade pupils a choice of French or German. Making a second foreign language compulsory is thought to be essential as linguistic skills open up prospects in a global society. But how well can Greek state schools teach two foreign languages? Problems with the teaching of English already oblige parents to send their children to cramming schools, at great cost. High cost Education Ministry data show that there are 8,500 private language schools in Greece, at which 83.1 percent of pupils study English, 9.9 percent German, 5.3 percent French, 1.6 percent Italian and 0.2 percent Spanish. The cost is a burden on the average family budget. A study by educational researcher Christos Katsikas reveals that about 1 million pupils take foreign-language lessons at tuition centers. Of them, around 40 percent are at primary school, 40 percent at junior high, senior high or technical schools, while most of the remainder are in tertiary education. The study estimates that Greek families paid 800 million euros in 2004 for foreign-language lessons. Of course, as Katsikas told Kathimerini, the annual cost per family varies according to the level. Fees for a child in A class, the lowest level, are around 700 euros a year, while fees for First Certificate preparation classes are as much as 1,200 euros and Proficiency level fees run to more than 1,500 euros a year. The cost of books for those classes starts at 80 euros for the lower levels and can rise to 200-300 euros. So why do parents choose to send their children to tuition centers? Is it the lack of adequate English teaching at school? Do teachers exhibit a public service mentality? Or is it the philosophy of the school itself, which is to furnish pupils with the basics in every subject and not to take them to an advanced level so that they can acquire the First Certificate or Proficiency by the age of 15? «I believe that the intention of introducing a second foreign language into primary school is correct. It would be a good place to start making changes,» says Sofia Triantafyllou, the mother of two children (Dimitris in the third grade of junior high school and Nina in the sixth grade of primary school). She has a bookstore in Pangrati and her husband has a small-goods store in Faliron. «There are only a few hours of English lessons at school and the classes are often canceled due to staff shortages. So we have to send the children to English lessons. My son also has private lessons in German. I’d send him to the tuition center for that but the hours don’t suit him. Our annual expenditure on foreign languages alone is 6,000 euros,» she said. Her children started English lessons at a tuition center in the second grade of primary school. «The aim is for them to get certificates that carry weight in the job market before they go to senior high school, where they will have to intensify their efforts so as to succeed in the university entrance exams. Children are in a hurry to get the certificates they’ll need for work,» explained Triantafyllou, touching on an important aspect of the issue. Few hours But schools don’t meet that need. First, there are not enough hours of lessons. English is taught from the third grade of primary school to the first grade of junior high school for three hours a week, dropping to two hours a week in the second and third years of junior high. Pupils may choose a second foreign language (French or German) in junior high, for which they have lessons three hours a week. In senior high, pupils may opt to study a foreign language (English, French or German), which is taught for three hours a week in the first year of senior high and two hours a week in the remaining two years. «There aren’t enough hours of lessons for pupils to attain a level at which they can get a certificate. And with 30 children to a class, you can’t teach a foreign language properly, much less when there are no properly equipped classrooms. These shortcomings at state schools reinforce the role of the tuition center,» Maria Haritou, president of the Panhellenic Union of English Teachers in Secondary Education, told Kathimerini. Besides, schools have a different approach to teaching English. «Schools offer the basics in every subject. But English has become a professional necessity. Certificates count in the Greek job market, and not only there. Good English is essential for postgraduate studies and for scholarships. So pupils must attain a good level quickly. That puts state schools at a disadvantage,» Anna Bouldoumi, president of the Panhellenic League of Foreign Language Centers, told Kathimerini. Bouldoumi explained that schools cannot compete with tuition centers, with their small classes, modern teaching methods and individual attention. It is a very different philosophy and schools must make much progress in order to meet contemporary needs while carrying out their mandate of providing free education.