A survey by the Consumer Institute on the cost of educating children, coinciding with the beginning of the school year, confirms what is more or less common knowledge. What is supposed to be free education could be added to the list of the shortest jokes. Every pupil attending a state school costs his or her parents hundreds of thousands of drachmas every year in coaching, along with foreign language courses, music lessons and other activities, a sum total that is often well over the million-drachma mark. In Greece, education costs account for around 17.8 percent of the family budget, compared to the European Union average of only 8.6 percent. Dramatic increases in the outlay toward education could perhaps be justified in times of general prosperity, but not when, as recent surveys show, an increasingly large sector of the population is living below the poverty line. Greece is third on the OECD list of countries with the greatest inequalities in income. It is abundantly clear that the average family has to make great sacrifices in order to provide what should be taken for granted – the education and vocational training of its children. This bitter reality is proof that the latest, much vaunted, educational reform has resulted in the creation of a class-ridden system. The main cause can be found in the Achilles heel of all changes made to the education system in the past few decades. In every single attempt, the cart has been put before the horse: The focus has always been on the examination system, rather than on the quality of education itself and its relevance to the changing needs of the job market. The result is that pupils are faced with a barrage of tests and exams that create an even greater need for private coaching after school hours. It is about time to look for a way out of this vicious circle which puts pupils under enormous pressure and empties their parents’ pockets, without any corresponding improvement to the students’ job prospects. Unfortunately, Simitis has gone from being a socialist to a champion of the free market, and has tried to adopt a business mentality without ever having been personally exposed to market challenges.

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