OPINION

Assessing the drop

The first observation that can be made about the decrease in Greece’s student population concerns the low birthrate and the country’s aging population: Young people make up a smaller portion of the population – a much-discussed problem in recent years. The decline in the number of schoolchildren is commonly attributed to the low birthrate, but this does not fully account for the trend. Even at times of a boom in the birthrate, the size of Greece’s student population was much smaller. These days, despite the low birthrate, the number of schoolchildren is at its peak, numbering 2 million people or 20 percent of the population. More substantial conclusions from the declining numbers of schoolchildren concern internal shifts and are more related to the organization of state and private education. In elementary education, the number of pupils was down by 2,444 (0.3 percent), mainly because of a reduction in the number of children in kindergartens, especially private ones. The reason for this drop probably lies with the rising fees for private kindergartens and the low presence of immigrants at these institutions. The student population at state primary schools has remained steady, while that at private ones has risen by 1.8 percent, despite the success of all-day state schools which are still in a pilot stage. The stabilization of the migrant influx appears to have contributed to the steady population at state primary schools. What is more interesting, in terms of education, is the ratio of pupils per teacher. In the school year 2002-2003, the ratio was 13.2:1 in primary schools and 12.3:1 in kindergartens, down from 14.1 and 13, respectively, in the previous year (although, in order to assess this ratio, we must also know the teachers’ working hours). On the other hand, what is quite alarming is the 2.7 percent decline in the number of students in secondary education – considerably stronger than the 0.3 percent drop in pupils in primary education. This means that a portion of primary school graduates (most likely foreigners) do not go on to secondary education. The move of pupils away from technical high schools (TEEs) seems to have followed the lowering in demands by senior high schools, which effectively shows that TEEs are seen as «easy schools» rather as a serious alternative. Finally, the ratio of pupils per teacher also improved in secondary and higher education, notwithstanding the reservations concerning the tutors’ number of work hours.