Some 100,000 school students have just begun sitting the Panhellenic Examinations which will determine who gains entry into 68,394 places at the country’s universities.
We all know the hard work, the anxiety, the hopes of the children. These examinations are, for most, the first great personal test, their symbolic and actual passage into adulthood. Here – they believe – their future is determined, their place in the world. They understand that all depends on their preparation and abilities, on their being lucky enough to find themselves on a good day so that years of hard work will pay off, on their choosing the right course of study. However much their families and teachers may have helped them prepare, each child is totally alone in this personal struggle and in its evaluation.
That is why new students are often surprised when they arrive at university. Some are disappointed by the unexpected laxity and apparent lack of pressure to excel, by the low expectations of many fellow students and professors. They understand that, once again, their future depends on personal effort and luck – the luck to find themselves with good professors, in a department that takes their studies seriously, with fellow students who want to succeed. Some devote themselves to their studies, knowing that everything depends on them and on luck, and not from self-evident demands and frameworks established by the university. Others may be charmed by the path of least effort, holding out their “rights” as a benefit equal to an education. Others fall into depression and ask themselves whether their hopes for something better were in vain.
The children who are evaluated in the strictest, most objective way in the Panhellenic Exams quickly learn that evaluation and accountability applied only to them. They see that in the “Greek exceptionalism” trade-offs rule, a malevolent bureaucracy swallows all, hiring and promotions often depend on knowing the right people, small interest groups get what they want.
They come to understand that, despite the objective nature of the exams, despite the existence of an independent council or objective hiring in the state sector, in our society meritocracy and equality are still some way off. This harsh lesson is an integral part of our education.
We can only hope that the new law presented by the government will lead to an education system worthy of the efforts that our children make.