OPINION

Restructuring state schools

Education Minister Petros Efthymiou’s recent interventions in private schools seems to derive from an obsolete way of dealing with unionist involvement in the education sector. Efthymiou is trying to strike a balance between the handouts recently assured to state school teachers, on one hand, and the demands expressed by private school teachers on the other. Hence he decided to introduce a bill aiming to protect the jobs of private school teachers who have completed six years of employment at one school. Efthymiou noted that the measure also safeguards the prestige and the smooth operation of private institutions, for it demonstrates that education is a public good which should not come under free-market laws. Using these arguments, Efthymiou bypassed the overall economic policy line and ignored the prevalent European trends pervading the organization as well as the operating principles of the labor market. However, the growth of private schools in recent years has been due to the shortcomings of state education and to the organizational flexibility of private institutions, which has allowed the latter to act more effectively despite the fact that their fees have been subject to state control for nearly two decades. Efthymiou’s aim, then, should not be to intervene yet again in the field of private education to bring it in line with the state one. Efthymiou’s great challenge is, in fact, to restructure state schools and address their many deficiencies. State schools must become competitive and demanding institutions that will fulfill the educational needs of society, and particularly the needs of those who lack the means and abilities to seek out private alternatives. The state schools should win citizens’ confidence, become attractive to parents and pupils alike, and become a model for private schools, as was the case not so long ago. Should these aims be achieved, there would be no need for any intervention. The fees of private schools would drop and the staff of state schools upgraded. Otherwise, so long as state schools do not cover society’s educational needs private education will grow, expand its influence and be dominated by the profit motive, no matter how many employee-sympathetic measures Efthymiou may put forth. «As you saw, President Bush looked at the euro coin [which Simitis gave him during a photo opportunity] and showed interest in it and discussed it. And he saw the Greek side of the coin and saw that we have a presence, even in this simple way. So why should we feel that we are suspects in a way, something like school students who have to explain to the teacher what went wrong in class. For God’s sake! That is not Greece. I want you all to understand that!