NEWS

‘Educational’ trips

Eighteen-year-olds let loose with plenty of pocket money have been traveling the country over the past few weeks on the annual five-day school excursion for final-year high school students. It is a tradition that marks the first step toward the freedom of adult life, «something like a bachelor party,» as one teacher with experience of these trips told Kathimerini. Sadly, the fun is sometimes marred by tragedy – the most recent example being the death of a 19-year-old in a Corfu hotel pool that raised several questions about these holidays. The educational purpose of the trips has long been forgotten, as ultimately they satisfy the desires of pupils and the tourism industry. Turnover is estimated at about 120 million euros annually for hotels, restaurants, bars and travel agencies, but these are not the only services on offer. There are cases where teachers and other accompanying adults have discovered drug dealers following Athens pupils on Crete, Rhodes and Corfu. «Ninety percent of the kids want to go just to have fun, to let rip,» said Sotiria, a 20-year-old with vivid memories of her own school trip. «There is no real educational aspect to these excursions,» said Dimitris Triantafyllou of Athens, a second-year student in senior high who just returned from a short trip with his school. «I had a good time on Lefkada, and nothing excessive happened.» Teachers say the kids want to stay in good hotels and go to bouzouki clubs where they can let their hair down. «The larger islands have become nightlife centers where anything can happen,» said Ioanna M., a senior high school teacher from Athens, who had the experience of some of her pupils spending two days in the island lockup. It all began when two of the hotel’s security guards saw a young man, not a pupil, acting suspiciously inside the hotel. The teachers did not know him; the pupils said they had no idea who he was. That night, the young man slept on the street and then, under the influence of drugs, hurled accusations against the pupils. Drug squad officers found quantities of hashish, cocaine and heroin in three of the pupils’ rooms. The incident was resolved, but Ioanna M. has decided not to take part in any more of these excursions. «It was an extreme case, but there is always some problem, great or small. Teachers have no say with these kids. The only thing you can do is to stop them from renting motorcycles and going into the pool drunk; to try and make sure they are safe. On these trips, the teachers don’t get any sleep. You feel powerless in the face of danger, which in the case of teenagers is multiple.» Teachers who spoke to Kathimerini said the organization of these excursions was up to the heads of the pupils’ 15-member council. Given the large numbers of children on these trips (usually over 100), the choice of hotel, restaurant, bars and discotheques can be profitable. Travel agencies, teachers, even the pupils themselves are involved in an unofficial system of kickbacks, for the rewards can be considerable. This year about 88,000 children will be going on excursions. The cost of each trip varies, naturally, but the average price is usually 250-300 euros per person (tickets, accommodation, half-board), apart from personal expenses, additional meals and entertainment. Although at most schools, parents and teachers’ associations set a program in advance, the pupils’ council heads have the final say. «Kickbacks are a given. I have seen bar owners approach pupils trying to persuade them to choose their own establishment over others,» said one teacher.