Two out of 10 pupils are foreign-born

The number of pupils from non-Greek backgrounds or repatriated Greek families has increased dramatically at all levels of state education. Athens attracts most of the foreigners and repatriated Greeks who come to settle in Greece. As a result, about two out of 10 students at schools in Athens were born abroad. In some neighborhoods the proportion of foreign-born students is as high as 75 percent. This gives rise to questions about public schooling in Athens and the rest of Greece, For example, is being in a school where foreign-born students are in the majority the best way for those children to integrate with the Greek education system, or could it lead to their being sidelined? Do difficulties with the language cause delays in getting through the syllabus, or do they hold up the educational process in general? What effect do they have on Greek pupils? What are the reactions of parents in a society where prejudice is still common? And how many teachers are able to respond to the demands of a multicultural, multilingual class? Stella Priovolou, special secretary for cross-cultural education at the Education Ministry, told Kathimerini that cross-cultural education is «a kind of agreement between pupils, a collaboration of likenesses and differences, which the teacher must balance.» Ira Valsamaki-Ralli, who is responsible for education and welfare issues on the Athens prefectural council, gave Kathimerini statistics showing that 22 percent of students at Athens schools are foreign-born. The highest percentage (76.2 percent) is at the 53rd Primary School in the third municipal ward (which includes Gazi, Petralona and Thiseion). Almost as high is the proportion of foreign-born pupils at the 22nd Primary School (75.9 percent) and the Second Junior High School (74.4 percent) in Kypseli in central Athens. The overall percentage of students who are foreign-born, repatriated Greeks, Gypsies or Greek Muslims at Greek state schools is 12 percent for primary schools, 6 percent in junior high schools and 2 percent in senior high schools, says Pavlos Haramis, general secretary of the OLME teachers’ federation’s Research and Documentation Center. These percentages, based on current Education Ministry statistics for the 2001-2002 school year, bring the number to approximately 98,000 pupils across all levels of school. «Now that two out of 10 pupils in Athens are foreign-born, the educational approach needs special attention,» says Valsamaki-Ralli. She believes that the situation in a class can be balanced, with some difficulty, when foreign-born students make up 20 percent of the total. Georgios Markou, professor of education at the University of Athens and president of the Institute of Education for Diaspora Greeks and Cross-Cultural Education, spoke to Kathimerini at a conference organized by the Union of Greek Prefectural Administrations. He defined the ideal analogy as 50-50. «We are still at the beginning. The problem is still ahead of us, and there are many consequences,» says Markou. «Unfortunately, despite the efforts made by the ministry, there is a huge distance between theory and practice,» adds Valsamaki-Ralli, while Haramis points out that as long as there is no in-service training, teachers will be without assistance.

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