NEWS

Number of Muslim pupils grows in schools of northern Greece

THESSALONIKI – «At last, I too can learn Greek,» a 7-year-old shouted in Turkish. The child, a member of the Muslim community in Xanthi, had just received a multimedia Greek-Turkish dictionary. The book, the first of its kind to be officially used in Greek state education, is part of a course in learning Greek as a foreign language. It is just one of around 40 schoolbooks and scores of digital and printed items created by the Education Ministry’s 1997-2008 educational program for Muslim children (PEM). The aim of the groundbreaking program was to produce modern materials for speakers of other languages who have a different cultural identity to train teachers and to introduce modern teaching methods. Ten years on, the number of Muslim children entering secondary education has grown fourfold. In the past four years, the number entering senior high school has shown a 60 percent increase and is still rising. In comparison with 2000, when 65 percent left after completing the compulsory nine years of schooling, in 2007, when the first batch of Muslim children who had been taught using the new methods left primary school, that number was halved, though it is still high compared with the national average of 7 percent. The program’s success is due to the fact that for the first time it was acknowledged that around 7,000 Muslim children in Thrace start school knowing little or no Greek. Although the program (80 percent EU funded) is over, further EU funding is being sought for PEM centers in Xanthi and Komotini and six smaller towns in order to continue efforts. The centers set up libraries, held lessons for primary and junior high school pupils, briefed parents and pupils, held Greek lessons for adults, advised teachers and parents, and organized cultural and creative activities.