Greek vs foreign schools? The parents’ experience

Choosing a school that has a balanced curriculum, high teaching standards, and is accessible and affordable is tough enough for most parents. For the foreign-born parent also concerned about the consequences of their choice on their child’s sense of identity, it can be a real quandary – especially if the other parent is Greek. In such cases, the dilemma is whether to select a Greek school where the child will be immersed in its local language and culture, or a foreign school that will pass on the parent’s native traditions and values. A state school is rarely preferred by foreign-born parents, who often believe they can buy a superior education at a private school. Some admit to concern about the high percentage of immigrants at state schools in «developing» Athenian districts such as Kypseli which they feel could be confusing to children from a foreign or mixed background. But others fear their child will be alienated in a distant private school and seek the community spirit of a local state school. Kathimerini English Edition spoke with a number of parents who were born abroad and asked them about their experiences. While some had experience of state schools, most had sent their children to private schools. The conclusion, as far as one could be reached, is that there is a variety of schools to meet a variety of students’ needs, though with varying degrees of success. Zoe, a Greek-New Zealander parent and teacher, sent her daughter to a state school in Melissia so that she could make friends with the local children. However, dissatisfied with the low teaching standards, she moved her to a private girls’ school in Ekali which had better standards but, ironically, larger classes. The ideal for many foreign-born parents would be a school offering a bilingual, bicultural education. But private elementary and secondary schools tend to cleave to either the Greek or the foreign system despite their claims to being «international schools.» Maria, a Greek-American mother and teacher, loved the «excellent cross-cultural» education offered by private kindergarten Stepping Stones in Pangrati where she sent her son. In the absence of elementary schools with such a philosophy, a foreign school was «not an option» for Maria, who sent her son to Athens College. Other parents want their children to learn their native language and culture and plump for a foreign school. Susan, an English parent, sent her son to Campion School in Pallini, whose standards met her expectations. Many parents find themselves switching from one system to another in an attempt to find the right school for their child. Fiona, a British mother, was impressed with the discipline her son received at Saint Catherine’s British Embassy School, but disappointed with the standards of the foreign secondary school he attended and so put him in a Greek private school. Zoe moved her son out of a Greek school to an international school, but he missed having local friends. Anna, a Greek-American mother, decided to move her son from a Greek school which she felt was restrictive to an international school. Her second son chose to stay in the Greek system. A frequent comment was that teachers at international schools were more approachable. Another was that there was sometimes an excessively competitive environment in the Greek private schools. Prestigious Greek schools are generally credited with living up to their name – and their fees. But many parents resented paying for extra lessons offered by teachers in many schools – especially to students struggling with courses in a foreign language. Also, many Greek school teachers are qualified in their subjects but do not have official teaching qualifications. The most common complaint made about the Greek system was that it places too much emphasis on rote learning as opposed to an approach that demands critical thinking. School-leavers might therefore have difficulties at foreign universities due to inadequate preparation for autonomous research and project production. Foreign schools tend to encourage independent study but students are obliged to specialize earlier – perhaps before they are ready to. For Zoe, neither the Greek nor the foreign system is superior, but each prepares the student for its own universities. A student wanting to go to university abroad does not necessarily have to attend a foreign secondary school. Greek and foreign schools are increasingly offering the International Baccaleureate (IB) – a two-year alternative to the Eniaio Lykeio (Greek high school) program. Widely regarded as a passport to European universities, it also counts as credit with some US colleges. The IB was a godsend for Maria, who said her daughter «blossomed with the independence and creativity the course allowed her after struggling in a Greek school.» But parents considering the IB wonder whether it would be taught more effectively at a Greek or foreign school. Evidently, the dilemma becomes more acute when children enter their mid-teens. Perhaps the best approach was suggested by Alannah, a Greek-Irish parent who struggled to find the right environment for her daughter: «Don’t impose a school of your choice on your child – first assess their needs as an individual and then identify the school which best satisfies them.»