The start of the school year this September has been marred by anger, a good deal of complaining, clashes of interests, streamlining efforts and cobbled reforms to the overall educational system.
The overriding sense, however, is one of deep-seated insecurity among parents for the future of their children and for that of the Greek educational system more generally. We have also seen a lot of confusion and a huge waste of energy on discussions that lead nowhere in the present circumstances, when everything is more or less up in the air. The heated debate regarding the importance of religious studies and Ancient Greek studies on the secondary school curriculum is a post-modern farce of the violent clashes sparked in Athens at the turn of the 20th century by a disagreement between academics and politicians championing the use of demotic Greek and those who wanted the language to retain its ancient roots that took on widespread social dimensions.
Of course, there is an analogy to be made, as Greece at that time was also experiencing a deep crisis that was financial, social and cultural in its nature and that affected the direction the entire country was to take. Clinging to tradition or rejecting it outright are knee-jerk reactions typical to societies in a state of fear and confusion.
The sense of insecurity felt by the entire country right now is being expressed in powerful ways, either by sinking deeper into its clutches or by lashing out at others. Education, culture and the identity of a nation that these two pillars form, are also suffering from the same bipolar behavior.
Yet, it is this important junction of our history, this crisis, that could potentially serve as a springboard for a bold overhaul of the entire educational system aimed at shaping a country that is on the vanguard of knowledge, innovation and science. The fact is that we have nothing to lose save the junk that has piled up from the past, but we have a lot to gain.
When Finland, for example, experienced its own deep crisis in the early 1990s it made a radical overhaul of its entire educational system aimed at promoting young talent and outstanding achievement. And the plan was successful with many other countries trying to emulate the country’s system today.
Greece does not have fewer talented people or accomplished scientists than Finland. It has a wealth of them in fact, and also has a rich source of great minds in the diaspora who could provide valuable know-how. But such changes must be made soberly and rationally, with justice and equality so that the social contract can be renewed on a fresh basis and a national renaissance can be endeavored.