While Finland gets all the attention in education, lauded for its performance, few look at the other end of the spectrum, the poor performers in Europe. So what’s Europe’s poorest performing country? Guess what – the ever topical Greece.
Sadly, Greece is a high cost, high staff but low attainment system. Greece has four times more teachers per pupil than Finland, extremely low student-teacher ratios in both primary and secondary but performs poorly in almost all areas. The student-teacher staff ratio is an astonishing 7.66 in socio-economically disadvantaged schools and 9.29 in advantaged schools, which are among the smallest in PISA-participating countries. Only one country out of the sixty one, has better (smaller) ratios. To put this in context, their student-teacher ratios are twice as good as ours in the UK.
The number of hours primary teachers spend teaching in public institutions is comparatively small in Greece, ranking 32nd smallest out of 33. Lower secondary teachers teach the fewest hours of any country, ranking 33rd out of 33. Upper secondary teachers are not much better at 32nd out of 33. So, it’s lots of teachers, who teach less than in almost all other countries.
When students are asked whether they feel happy at school, Greece comes 56th out of 64. Nearly half of all students report skipping classes, which puts Greece a disappointing 9th out of 64. So despite the low student-teacher rations and high number of teachers, student attitudes are awful.
When it comes to taking responsibility for the curriculum, course content and assessment, Greece comes stone last 64th out of 64. It’s not much better on the use of data to compare results and improve the system, where they’re 63rd out of 64. In other words the system lacks flexibility and oversight.
Lastly, and this is an odd one, there’s the issue of school guards. This caused uproar in the recent Grexit negotiations. The Greeks were criticized for overstaffing and having ‘guards’ in schools, a subject that vexed outside observers from countries where they do not exist. Interestingly, a significant number of these ‘guards’ had Masters degrees and PhDs. How do we know this? Because when the guards were laid off a special exemption clause was inserted to preserve the jobs of these over-qualified staff.
The data suggests that the Greek school system has exemplary teacher-student ratios, but the teachers teach less and the outcomes are dreadful. The school guards’ issue simply shows that the system is somewhat out of control with regard to staffing. Christos Tsolakis, an honorary professor in the Education P Department of the Aristotle University of Macedonia, saw poor education as the root cause of the Greek problem. “The economic problem is only the surface. The real problem of Greece, however, is the educational lack as well as the cultural crisis. Unfortunately, we Greeks have not yet clarified the meaning of being educated. Ethical concepts such as understanding what is right and wrong, respecting the laws, understanding the meaning of egalitarianism, rate, measurement and democracy retreat in front of amorality have been long forgotten”. Education would appear to show, in microcosm, some of the problems the Greek state faces in implementing reform. Given the brouhaha over school guards – a fight to the death to keep them all employed, the future looks bleak.