Tide shifting in education?

Could Greece be the only country in the world where the university and college entrance exams always manage to make the headlines around this time of year? Is this the only country where there is so much analysis of the national entry exams, where the grades, the universities, the number of new entrants and the choices they make are put under such scrutiny? It must be, at least in Europe, which raises the question of why this is the case. How can you explain the sensitivity about and interest in university entrance exams?

The question is multifaceted and open to numerous interpretations, and it highlights yet another Greek paradox rather than providing a convincing answer. The main thing that is interesting about this phenomenon is its many contradictions, and these contradictions lead to the conclusion that a fuss is made over a process that takes place every year when it would normally go almost unnoticed — if it did not entail such a great cost for households, such a lot of effort and stress on the part of students, and if it were not for the many problems students will face once they are in the tertiary education system.

On the one hand, Greeks? interest in education and in preparing their children to face the future as best they can comes in stark contrast to the tolerance they show for the mediocre if not downright appalling quality of tertiary education in this country. Maybe this paradoxical behavior has to do with the ingrained belief that any degree will get you into the civil service. Or maybe many families, at least in the past, could afford to allow their children to study courses that had little of substance to offer and give them the opportunity to waste several years of their lives living it up away from home. Then of course we also have to consider the multiple benefits to the shadow education system, such as private tuition and preparation colleges. This shabby state of affairs certainly benefited a lot of people, either directly or indirectly.

This year, however, the hype is somewhat justified because the results of the exams show a change in the usual patterns. Economic hardship obviously played a role as many students, for starters, opted for universities and colleges close to home, even if these were their second choice. Maybe this shows the beginning of a changing mentality, and especially as it will take more than the weakest degree to get a job, and especially in the public sector.