Shock therapy

I am trying to slip into the shoes of a kid facing the specter of national examinations to enter the Greek university system. Anxious parents wait in the car, the engine running, outside private tuition centers, the dysfunctional social life, edgy children. I picture an 18-year-old hearing about the government cover-ups, realizing that the key pillars of society are in decay. He studies hard in order to make it into a specialization that may not interest him at all, without gaining anything substantial in knowledge or judgment. And then comes the big shock: After all the pain and effort, he realizes it was not really worth it. Visit any university faculty in the fall and you will see absolute misery. Dilapidated lecture halls, party-affiliated factions helping students to sign up, a shortage of textbooks because the ministry is a mess, outdated syllabuses and representatives of youth political parties who interrupt classes to read out some political statement. It’s extremely hard, if not impossible, for intellectual curiosity, the thirst for knowledge – once a characteristic of our parents’ generation – to survive in this environment. And it’s easy to slide into the vicious cycle of frappe, misery and ersatz rebellion. Sure, there are some pockets of resistance to all this. But they are a small minority and they don’t constitute a critical mass. It’s only natural for a young person who has gone through all this super-effort to feel defeated. The danger is evident. The most dynamic among our youth have two paths from which to choose: creativity or disorder. Each path has its own charms, with one difference: Disorder is the easy option in Greece, while creativity is the tough one. For that reason, we should not be surprised that our best brains choose to study and then work in a foreign country. We are at risk of being thrust back decades when the social conditions have forced the best minds to go abroad. Greece must re-examine its university entry system as well as the institutions themselves. They are both bankrupt and the longer it takes to fix them, the heftier the price will be.

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