OPINION

Free education?

Greek families pay the astronomical sum of 400 billion drachmas (1.174 billion euros) per year on all sorts of private tuition courses, despite the supposedly free access to education. More precisely, households pay about 200 billion drachmas (587 million euros) for private, skill-upgrading courses for primary, secondary and senior-high schools. About 150 billion drachmas (440 million euros) is spent on language coaching centers, while nearly 50 billion drachmas (147 million euros) goes to dance schools, music academies and gyms for the children. Add to these the 100-billion-drachma (293-million-euro) fees for private primary and secondary schools and one realizes that Greek households spend half a trillion drachmas (1.5 billion euros) of their total income on providing better education opportunities for their children. The above numbers are derived from a recent ICAP survey. Though they are forecasts for 2002, based on data provided by Research on Household Planning department of the National Statistics Service in 1998-1999 (which take into account the rising education costs), the findings most likely underestimate the real costs. Five hundred billion drachmas (1.5 billion euros) – or say 400 billion drachmas, assuming that those who send their kids to private schools do so out of free will and not in response to the sorry state of many public schools – is too heavy an economic burden for a country that claims to offer free education. It is no coincidence that barring private schools, virtually no private tuition centers exist in other European countries. The 400 billion drachmas that is spent on the various sorts of private tuition schools is the most blatant proof that Greece’s education system is sorely lacking. In addition, this mammoth sum reveals the size of the concerns that have an interest in perpetuating the existing situation. It also underscores the power of these concerns to react to each change, and by extension their ability to curb remedial action. We are not only faced with the «big merchants» of cramming schools but with a plethora of small businesses and individuals that make a living from the unacceptable state of the Greek education system. It would take a great deal of courage on the part of the government to purge the system of these ills. Four hundred billion drachmas should be enough to finally wake them.