Teenage efforts, adult failures

For those who have a close-up view of our children’s efforts to secure their future through education, it is a commonplace that the hardest-working Greeks are the teenagers preparing for their university entrance exams. This leads to the great question: Where does all this effort go, and, whereas many young Greeks do well abroad, why do our universities not produce the results that would correspond to the effort our children made to enter them? Clearly, at this very vulnerable point in their lives, our children are forced to face some of the most serious problems of Greek society.

The recent revelation by Kathimerini that Greece is in danger of not being ready to participate in next year’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), showed the magnitude of political and state officials’ ineptitude and irresponsibility. Despite the warnings by the national coordinator for PISA, the Education Ministry did not prepare for the pilot phase of the program in March and April. Only after our report did it hasten to announce that the pilot phase “will be carried out as programmed by the ministry, in accordance with the timetable set out by the OECD for all Northern Hemisphere countries, between March and May 2014.”

The initial plan was for the pilot phase to be conducted between March 4 and April 11, with the participation of 42 public and private schools in Attica. The ministry did not say how it would make up for lost time in order to be ready. Since 2000, when the triennial program was established, all countries have successfully managed to implement it. For some of the poorer and less developed economies in South America, North Africa and Southeast Asia, this has been quite a challenge but at the end of the day they succeeded. It is quite likely that Greece, which has been part of the program since its inception, will achieve what other, poorer members achieved on their first try.

In 2012, some 510,000 15-year-old students from 65 countries or economic regions took part. They were assessed on reading, mathematics and science. Since 2000, Greek students have had average results, and they have continued to be mediocre even as other countries have improved. In 2009, Greece was in 25th place, only to drop to 42nd in 2012. While other countries with average results – including the US and Germany – held great debates and made a national effort to improve, in Greece the officials who should have done something remained indifferent.

This laxity is evident in other parts of our education system, with endless experimentation, on the one hand, and the systematic deconstruction of a recent law that would have improved universities, on the other. Obviously, it is not enough for us simply to assess our teenagers – we have to examine the adults who are in important political and state positions for their conscientiousness, their seriousness and their sense of responsibility.