Hefty price tag

It is common knowledge that the idea of a «free education» has for many years been just a figure of speech. Most parents know this from bitter experience. A recent study conducted by the Center for the Development of Education Policy, under the auspices of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), provides numerical evidence that justifies the general mood. True, the system of free education puts an enormous strain on state coffers. However, a second system has developed alongside the official one which puts a huge drain on a big part of household incomes. We all get the idea. Children are from an early age sent to foreign-language schools. According to the GSEE survey, Greek families spend an astronomical amount, totaling some 431,214,000 euros a year, on these courses. When they reach high school, pupils begin to attend cram courses to further help them with their studies. Private lessons intensify as pupils start preparing for the national examinations for university entry. The study found that Greek households spend an annual 567,105,000 euros to that purpose. The sobering picture is completed by including the turnover of private schools. Sending one’s children to a private school is not always a private choice; often it’s a compulsory move. True, the government tried to curb the role of private tuition centers by introducing in-school cram courses for those in secondary education. But the impact has been meager. Their failure is not because parents like paying for private services but because they are driven by the deep-rooted – albeit justified – conviction that should they be deprived of the costly extracurricular preparation, their children will not be on a par with other pupils in their examinations for university entry. The national examinations may be perfectly transparent but they are excessively objective. Being a good student is simply not good enough. Even top pupils have to make special preparations for the conventional requirements of these examinations. In other words, we are faced with a vicious circle that cannot be tackled by government decisions. Breaking the circle will take a different attitude toward education, one that will impose qualitative criteria. This issue must be at the center of the national debate on education. Otherwise, any discussion will merely perpetuate the existing deadlocks.

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