OPINION

A class-perpetuating education

The bankruptcy of the state university system was acknowledged by university deans who staged an emergency meeting last Thursday. The resolution issued by the professors declared that Greek state universities are undergoing what is probably their worst crisis, as indicated by the recent string of protests by students and members of the academic community. But how did such a crisis develop? And who is to blame? The petition does not touch on this, nor does it express one iota of self-criticism on behalf of the academics for the current state of affairs. All the ills of Greek university education were revealed in the wake of the extremely troubled reaction of university deans to the government’s proposed changes to the state system. If Education Minister Marietta Giannakou had presented her proposals with greater political skill, no crisis would have been revealed. Higher education would have remained unchallenged. If Mrs Giannakou had not announced her proposals at all and the state had allowed underperforming high school students to continue securing university places, the summer of 2006 would have rolled by without incident. And local authorities, who have profited from the spread of university education into the country’s provincial centers, would also be more than happy. There would have been no education crisis, reflecting a «broader social crisis,» ruining the summer. Several years ago, then education minister Gerasimos Arsenis, who had found himself at the center of a row over attempted reforms, declared publicly that the truth must finally be spoken, namely «that we are giving our children worthless pieces of paper as university certificates.» In any normal country, a statement of this kind by a serving minister would have provoked a storm among politicians and academics alike. But here, in the so-called cradle of civilization, no one batted an eyelid at Arsenis’s remarks. Everything was brushed under the carpet in a flash, with the circles producing these «worthless pieces of paper» remaining adroitly silent. And the minister who succeeded Arsenis ensured that the controversial reforms were scrapped. Giannakou would likely not get good grades for her handling of the current crisis in the education sector. But this is a failure that is quite separate from all the disappointing truths that came to the surface through the academics’ reaction to proposed reforms. Once again it became clear that everyone – politicians, academics, students – believes that the university system needs reform, but only as long as the proposed changes do not cause them any inconvenience. The fact that our political system is offering young people an education geared toward the perpetuation of class divisions, as a result what is ostensibly a more democratic system is being hushed up by politicians and academics alike. This higher education system is producing countless undskilled graduates for cheap domestic consumption and a smaller group of «patricians» who, thanks to their foreign-acquired skills, constitute a certain elite in the country’s mechanisms. Meanwhile the ranks of the unskilled graduates are swelling. With very few exceptions, university degrees have already been discredited in Greece. And it goes without saying that they impress absolutely no one abroad. As long as our country’s political leadership fails to acknowledge that state education is bankrupt, the succession of slipshod attempts at «patching up» the problems will continue. Let us not forget that what we now refer to as «reforms» are nothing more than a series of obvious changes to «details» of our ailing higher education system. The most significant thing is that our education system does not possess a solid mechanism producing adequately trained graduates with the proper standards, professionals who would constitute important members of the intelligentsia a country needs if it has ambitions for national distinctions. The state of the education sector in this country can easily be graded if one considers the level on which intellectual life is ranked in Greece today.