The political clash around Greece’s education system is, in fact, a clash between two different world views. It is not a new conflict, in fact, as it is something Greek society went through four decades ago. Conflicts of this sort tend to go through several stages. One side tries to bring the common denominator as low as it can. They believe performance evaluation is an anathema, perceive education along the lines of the old public sector and will do everything to make sure that the status quo remains unchanged. At some point they managed to impose the straightjacket of mediocracy on private education as well, all but banning performance assessment and the dismissal of incompetent professors. Many big mistakes were made during that period. The leftist administration abolished so-called “experimental” and “model” schools on the back of the absurd argument that these institutions cultivate inequalities. These are, in fact, public schools that motivate children that do not have the means to attend a private school to develop their skills and excel.
Standing out was treated as a crime. The tsunami of populism left nothing untouched. Even established private schools went down the path of compromise and mediocrity. Populism found a mate in the modern Greek fast money culture, a combination that unraveled any progress made in the previous decades.
Societies move on; they change. That’s good. No one wants to go back to the time when teachers would hit their pupils with a ruler. The pendulum had to swing all the way to one side before coming to a halt in the middle. The only problem is that we wasted too many years. Many generations of students have come out of the education system with a disastrous combination of impossible expectations and low skills, which is most of all unfair to them.
Now something seems to be changing. We’re taking steps forward, notwithstanding the compromises and half measures. Greece will never manage to pull itself out of the mess unless it manages to improve on the education of its children. The champions of inertia are waging a fight against reform; it is in their political interest that nothing changes. They are trying to protect their clients who are afraid of evaluation and competition. At the same time, they continue manufacturing “angry” clients – young people entering the labor market with more delusions than skills.
This crucial battle must not be lost in the implementation of reforms. We cannot afford to waste another 10 or 20 years.