Education deficit

It is common knowledge that the quality of a country’s educational system largely determines its level of cultural development and economic performance. Spending on human capital is these days considered a nation’s most essential and productive form of investment. «Knowledge society» has become one of the buzz phrases of the day, but Greece is also laggard in that respect. The reason is not just the blatant faults in the education system but also the decline in Greek pupils’ academic performance. The annual release of the official threshold for university entry shows that the minimum requirement for certain university departments is below the 50 percent mark that has traditionally been the passing mark. In the case of national examinations, there is a quota on the number of students who can be accepted at university regardless of their marks. So there is no problem – institutionally speaking, that is. The drop in the average pass mark would not be cause for much concern were it a passing phase, a result of more demanding examinations than usual. Despite any annual fluctuation, the examination board has year after year lowered demands as it tries to adapt to the average level of senior high school graduates. It is worth noting here that at this year’s examinations – which were widely considered fairly easy – 25 percent of third-year high school students and about half of second-year senior high school pupils failed to surpass the average mark in at least one subject. The crucial issue is that we have gone from one extreme to the other. In the past, even strong candidates were left out of university because the number of spaces was low and competition fierce. Today, the number of entrants is much higher while, significantly, pupils’ performance on the examinations has dropped. As a consequence, a large number of candidates lack the qualifications to follow the university syllabus. The Greek senior high school is obviously the weakest link in the education system. University education is also in need of radical reform – especially in the social sciences. Reforms to senior high schools are most urgent. The remnants of the institutional framework that was set up during the tenure of former Socialist Education Minister Gerasimos Arsenis have created more problems than were actually solved. The pending national debate on education must address issues regarding the role of the senior high school. That specific educational stage must not be treated solely as a gateway to university but as an institution that caters to it own independent educational needs.