Crammed lives

One of the most common concepts in Greece, which is very hard to translate into other languages, is the idea of the «frontistirio,» or private tuition center. The operation of private tuition centers in Greece debunks the myth of «free education» which, according to a recent report by the National Statistics Service (NSS), costs the average Greek family some 212 euros per month. Cramming schools are hard to find in other countries. The evolution of such schools is neither a recent nor an inexplicable phenomenon. Because senior high school diplomas fail to guarantee employment and because of the sorry image of technical colleges, families have had to make economic sacrifices to ensure their children get into university. The demand for private tuition centers grew with the decline of free state education and the introduction of an inhuman entrance examination system under the Arsenis reform package in the mid-90s. There has never been a shortage of cramming schools. Unlike other forms of investment, opening a private tuition center does not presuppose particular business acumen or big capital. All it takes is a four-room flat, a few blackboards and some desks. Scores of highly skilled teachers are prepared to work hard for low wages and often without insurance, thanks to the flood of graduates looking for jobs in a bleak market. The perpetuation of this state of affairs constitutes a major social and cultural scandal. It’s true that if we want state education to absorb private tuition centers we cannot rely on administrative measures. That can only come as a result of the overall improvement of state schools. The change will come with a sobering price tag. But the cost will be far less than that paid daily by students whose free time, recreation and critical thinking are drowned in the flood of homework from two schools.