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Historical Background

The education system established shortly after Greece gained independence was the result of a combination of the French Elementary School Law of 1833, the Bavarian system of secondary education, and the pre-World War I German university system. Between Greece's independence in 1832 and the early 1990s, many elements of that system survived with very little change under a great variety of political leadership. The major factors in this stability were the obligatory use of Katharevousa, the artificial official state language; poor funding of education; centralization; and the influence of the Orthodox Church of Greece on secular schools. Until 1976 employment in business and the civil service required fluency in Katharevousa, creating a vicious cycle that sustained the language in schools spite of its distance from spoken, or demotic, Greek (see Language , this ch.). In the twentieth century, a half-dozen reform programs failed to make a significant impact on the system's reliance on traditional subjects and teaching methods. In 1974 the collapse of military rule and the Karamanlis government's quest for membership in the EC began a wave of new legislation aimed at closing the gap between Greece and other European countries, especially in the realm of technical education. Touching all levels of Greek education at varying depths, the reforms continued through the 1970s. The 1976 reform changed the number of compulsory years in the basic schooling cycle from six to nine and revamped the technical education program. The 1977 reform made technical education more widely available, with the aim of increasing the ratio of graduates with practical rather than academic expertise. Adult education was also decentralized in 1976. In the 1970s, there was a new emphasis on mathematics, the physical sciences, analytical thinking rather than rote learning, and individualized teaching.

Meanwhile, the rapid urbanization of the 1950s through the 1970s put new strains on the schools. As the rural population decreased, schooling in many remote areas deteriorated further because normal classes could not be filled from the local population. And the urban influx at the other end of the process forced many city schools to operate double shifts--especially once attendance became compulsory in the gymnasia (sing., gymnasium), the initial stage of secondary school.

The first PASOK government, which took office in 1981, increased education's share of the national budget by almost 50 percent in its first four years. The PASOK program also centralized primary and secondary education under the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs (the word national was dropped from the ministry name after 1993), standardized curricula and teaching methods, and assigned inspectors to ensure compliance. In the 1990s, demand for modernization of the Greek education system has accelerated as membership in the EC (now the EU) and continued urbanization have placed more emphasis on reaching West European standards.

Education Administration

The education system is highly centralized, in keeping with its French and German models. The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs approves all decisions on curricula, hiring practices, examinations, and standards. The Center for Educational Studies and Inservice Training advises the ministry on curriculum development. The country is divided into fifteen administrative regions for education, each of which is subdivided into 240 districts headed by inspectors who monitor curriculum application. Universities, all of which are financed by the state, are governed internally by a faculty senate, but all policy decisions must be ratified by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

Primary and Secondary Education

Article Sixteen of the 1975 constitution states that "the goal of education is the moral, intellectual, professional, and physical development of their [the students'] national and religious consciousness so that they become free and responsible citizens." To accomplish this goal, nine years of education, normally accomplished from ages six through fifteen, are free and compulsory. Of the compulsory years, the first six are in primary school, the next three in a gymnasium; an additional three secondary years (in a college-preparatory lyceum--pl., lycea) are optional but also free of charge. Students on the college-preparatory track may choose a classical or a scientific option, the latter of which is also offered by technical schools.

All state schools are coeducational, and since 1976 instruction in secondary schools has been in demotic Greek rather than the formal Katharevousa. (This change was made in primary grades in 1964.)

Preschool is also free for children between the ages of three and one-half to five and one-half years, an option taken up mainly in urban areas. Urbanization increased preschool enrollments in the 1970s and the 1980s, although fewer than half the children in that age-group attended in 1992 (see table 5, Appendix). After the reform of 1976 added the formerly optional first three years of secondary school to the compulsory program, enrollment in the first stage of secondary school increased sharply. But enrollment in the optional secondary stage dropped during that period because the reform of 1977 channeled many students out of the college preparatory line into secondary technical institutions.

Following its reorganization in 1977, the technical and vocational training system offers three options: a technical lyceum, a public or private secondary school, or a postsecondary center for higher technical and vocational education. The technical lycea offer programs in chemical, electrical, mechanical, or metallurgical engineering; business administration; architectural design; social services; and agriculture. Graduates can then attend a higher vocational training school or seek employment in their specialty. The 1977 reform also sought to raise the status of all technical schools by including nontechnical curricula and upgrading their standards for examinations and faculty credentials.

Promotion to the lyceum is automatic for graduates of the gymnasium. Prior to completion of the gymnasium, the Panhellenic Examinations are administered in two stages, at the end of grades eleven and twelve, to determine eligibility for university enrollment.

In 1989 some 93 percent of children in the primary school age range were enrolled in school, and 87 percent of children in the secondary range were enrolled. A total of 13,229 preschools and primary schools had an estimated enrollment of 976,444, and 3,468 secondary schools enrolled 843,732 students. Fewer than 10 percent of primary and secondary students attend private schools. Religious schools do not exist because religious instruction is compulsory for Greek Orthodox students in public schools. In 1989 the male-to- female ratio in primary and secondary schools was fifty-two males to forty-eight females.

The University System

Article Sixteen of the Greek constitution prohibits the operation of private institutions of higher learning. The cultural rationale behind that position is that education should not be commercialized at any level, nor should its availability be determined by the workings of the marketplace. In the early 1990s, the legalization of private institutions of higher education, urged by many education experts, was blocked by a PASOK government that was averse to opening a traditional bastion of state control to privatization. In practice, this situation has meant that the full burden of supporting Greece's system of universities and higher technical schools falls on the state budget, hence ultimately on the Greek taxpayers. It also means that the supply of higher education does not respond to increased demand except insofar as a government makes a conscious policy adjustment.

The high social status conferred by a university education causes enormous demand for the relatively small number of places in the university system. This trend sharpened in the early 1990s; in 1994 about 20,000 university slots and 20,000 technical college slots were contested among about 140,000 secondary school graduates. In the early 1990s, slightly more than 50 percent of university students were female. Although the number of university acceptances had increased after the reforms of the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the number of applicants increased at a much faster rate during that period. The economic stimulus of EU membership was a major factor in continuing that trend into the 1990s.

Because of their limited funding, Greek universities offer very few programs beyond the bachelor's degree, and faculty have little incentive to do advanced research. The ratio of faculty to students is also quite high in most universities. The highly politicized administration of Greek universities was based on a "chair" system that put groups of associated departments under the control of senior faculty and discourages innovative teaching methods. A 1983 law was passed to democratize university administration by replacing the system with American-style departments and giving junior faculty and student representatives a voice in policy making. The restructuring was achieved despite stiff resistance from entrenched senior faculty, however. Another measure established a National University Council to advise the government on higher education policy and an Academy of Letters and Sciences to set university standards.

The intense demand for higher education has had several results. Students with sufficient means attend as much as two years of supplementary private schooling in specialized frontisteria (sing., frontisterion), either during their last two secondary years or after graduation, to prepare them for entrance examinations. (The quality of these expensive private schools is quite uneven; statistics show that on the average they make only a marginal difference in test results.)

Many of those students who are not accepted by a Greek university go abroad to study--the largest number to Italy and significant numbers to Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. In the mid-1980s, Greece had the highest ratio of foreign to domestic university enrollment in the world. The increasing numbers of Greek students at foreign universities drained funds from the domestic economy, and a significant number of students established careers abroad, depriving their homeland of their expertise. In the 1990s foreign universities began to open branches in Greece, where Greek students could begin study programs that must be completed at the parent institution abroad, increasing the "brain drain." The sale of fraudulent university degrees also was a frequent occurrence in the 1990s.

Private postsecondary institutions called "Laboratories of Liberal Studies" now offer three- and four-year programs. Graduates of these programs have been absorbed readily by private industry, despite the fact that their credentials are not the equivalent of university degrees. In 1989 some 194,419 students were enrolled in postsecondary institutions. In 1994 the largest universities were the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the University of Crete, the University of Thrace, the University of Ioannina, the University of Patras, the National Polytechnic University of Athens, the University of the Aegean (with facilities on several Aegean islands), and the University of Macedonia. In addition, programs in archeology and Greek studies are offered by American, British, French, German, Italian, and Swedish colleges, primarily for visiting students of those nationalities.

Adult education programs are directed by provincial and local authorities under the general policy guidelines of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs. In the provinces, a central goal of adult education is to combat illiteracy, the rate of which was estimated at 6.8 percent of the population in 1990. The rate for females, however, was over four times higher than that for males, reflecting the higher dropout rate of females from secondary school. The rapid spread of primary education in the postwar years reduced Greece's adult illiteracy rate from 72 percent to 10 percent between 1951 and 1981.