Education Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos yesterday launched a cross-party debate on education reforms, calling for a leaner but more substantial curriculum for senior high school students preparing for university entrance examinations. Spiliotopoulos proposed a reduction in the volume of material currently included in secondary school curricula and called for compulsory subjects to be replaced by more voluntary ones. «We need a new program of studies that will not push students into a sterile regime of rote learning,» the minister said. He added that the form of pre-university learning should change too, saying that an autonomous educational unit should be set up to accommodate students aspiring to sit university entrance examinations. «This should not be a waiting room for university exams nor a place where students prepare for afternoon sessions at cramming schools,» he said. The minister stressed that pre-university studies should not just focus on specialist subjects but also cover certain «fundamental» skills including computer literacy and the English language. He added that the profile of the teacher should change too – «from the provider of information to a guide for team efforts.» The representative of PASOK was restrained at the first session of the debate, leaving open the possibility of the main opposition party withdrawing from talks. «I hope the necessary circumstances are created that will allow PASOK to stay,» said Yiannis Panaretos, who once headed the National Education Council and was adviser to PASOK leader George Papandreou when the latter was education minister. Georgios Babiniotis, a leading academic heading the education reform committee, who chaired yesterday’s debate at Zappeion Hall, said it would take at least six months for the dialogue to be completed. A spokesperson for the State Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OLME) – which has refused to participate in the debate, arguing that it has been «fixed» – said yesterday that OLME would submit its proposals in writing to Babiniotis.