Integrating foreign pupils

According to figures presented by Greece’s Immigration Policy Institute (IMEPO) about 7 percent, or an estimated 100,000 of the country’s public school pupils are foreigners. Their presence is a mammoth challenge for the domestic education system, yet one still tinged with rosy prospects for the country’s future. The escalating influx of foreign students – whose number has dramatically increased over the past decade – signals two things. First, it indicates the gradual normalization of immigrants’ living conditions. Immigrants feel settled here and wish to send their children to Greek schools, generally seen as a step toward closer integration with the host society. The trend, secondly, leaves the state with a huge responsibility to respond to this major challenge. Success will guarantee the integration of hundreds of thousands of fully assimilated young people into the country’s work force. These people will inject Greek society and the economy with fresh energy and dynamism. We should also give credit to Greek teachers in public primary and secondary education who have in recent years braved the difficult conditions and carried out a mammoth task that should benefit the country in many ways. A lot may be at stake and things could be better, but there is no room for foot-dragging or for leaving things on autopilot. As IMEPO chief Alexandros Zavos recommended, Greece must hammer out an education policy for migrants. Poor command of the Greek language is still an obstacle for most foreign-born pupils. Two-thirds of foreign children have lived here for between two and six years and hence need language enhancement courses. In an alarming development, some 75 percent of foreign-born high school pupils have poor or mediocre performance, while only half of them continue beyond high school level. Part of the failure can be explained by the fact that we are in a transitional stage. But we must push beyond this, otherwise it will endanger smooth integration in the future and erect education barriers for second-generation migrants. For now, hopes for a solution lie with the state – save for its typical failure to take necessary measures in time.