Pupils from abroad face uphill battle

The number of foreign students at Greek schools has increased more than tenfold over the last decade, but figures seen by Kathimerini yesterday suggest that few of the schoolchildren make the jump from junior high school into further education. During the 1995-1996 academic year, foreign schoolchildren made up just 0.6 percent of the country’s student population. This academic year, the number of foreign schoolchildren has risen to some 100,000 – 7 percent of the total students – according to figures from the Immigration Policy Institute (IMEPO). Despite the growing number of foreign children attending Greek schools, some 40 percent of foreign junior high school students achieve low grades and a considerable amount do not make it into high school. Some experts put this down to the fact that many foreign schoolchildren do not learn Greek properly. Two-thirds of foreign students have only been in Greece for between two and six years. Fewer than two in 10 were born in Greece. «This highlights the major need for special policies and programs to bolster knowledge of the Greek language,» said the head of IMEPO, Alexandros Zavos. Foreign students now make up more than 10 percent of children in secondary education in Attica, where the majority of migrants live, and almost 7 percent in Thessaloniki. Overall, foreign students account for 8.5 percent of children in junior high school but only 5.1 percent of students in high school and technical colleges. More than half of foreign students who continue their studies after junior high school end up at technical colleges. In its report, IMEPO draws attention to the tactic of introducing foreign children into classes for younger students. The institute argues that this policy may actually be counterproductive since it singles out the children of migrants who, due to the age difference with their classmates, are often left feeling isolated, making it hard for them to make friends.