Our field visit in Athens (with Sevasti-Melissa Nolas) took off with a couple of very constructive meetings. We ‘ve met and discussed our project sampling and methodology with our local advisory group, and we have also met with a group of “gatekeepers”, who were introduced to us by our local advisors. We have presented them our project in order to get feedback and to establish some initial networks for the recruitment of children later on.
As most of the locals we spoke to yesterday work in education, a hot topic of discussion in our meeting and consequent dinner was the news that the Greek government has decided to shut down or merge a large number of pre- and primary schools. The issue has raised great concern and protest among teachers and educators, and I have decided to follow up the story and to consequently write about it, as it provides a good insight in the state of affairs of the educational system and policies that the children in the age group we will be working with in our research are facing.
The greek government, as part of their austerity politics and shrinking of the public sector, announced that they will shut down 30 nursery schools and 15 primary schools, and they will proceed in the merging of a further 74 nursery schools and 128 primary schools. The merging of schools actually translates in a further disappearance of 67 nursery schools and 79 primary schools. This will lead in an estimated loss of 600 educators jobs, and worryingly, in the stacking up of students into classes. One teacher that I discussed the issue with yesterday, estimated that a primary school class which today has 20 students will, after the merging and closure of schools, have about 35 students. It is not however merely a quantitate matter.
The crowding of students in classes clearly consists a great threat to the quality of education that will be provided in those public institutions. One of the slogans employed in the protests around Athens is “Students are not sardines in a tin/ let it be heard up to Brussels” – which poses clearly the worry for the creation of over-sized classes but also points to the European Union as being responsible for these cuts.
An exemplification of the worries over the qualitative changes that the merging will possibly bring, was provided to me in a discussion with a teacher from the 132nd primary school of Gravia, Athens.The 132nd school is a relatively large school in the northern section of the municipality of Athens., which provides education to a large number of students with immigrant background – 82% this school year. The directors and teachers of the school have created a unique curriculum during the past decade, in an attempt to educate students to appreciate and value diversity.
The school stuff have worked in close collaboration with the students, creating for instance videos (i.e. the award -winning 2011 video “Fear not, speak up!”) and greek language courses for the students’ parents. Especially during the past few ‘crisis’ years they have developed a system of material support for their students – such as common meals and writing material distribution – without any state support and without resourcing those in ‘charities’, but rather relying in self-organisation. The 132nd is now, according to the government plans, about to merge with another school, without many immigrant-background students, and without an interest for anti-racist curriculums, inclusion policies or activist practises. Yet, the director of the latter school, as being higher ranked, will take over the direction of the new ‘merged’ school, and he will much likely, according to the teacher from the 132nd, not continue the former’s curriculum.
The merging and closure of schools brings forth many issues relevant to the Connectors Study. One that I would like to highlight here, is the issue of protest. Whom of those affected protest over these changes, is a matter of great interest and one which intelligibly addresses issues of participation. Who is protesting? The teachers, who are about to lose their jobs; the parents, who see the degradation of their children’s education which is funded by their tax money; the children who will change schools and class-comrades, and will probably encounter an education reality of less attention and lower quality?
I have followed up the protests over the issue, and went today in a protest in front of the Regional Directorate of Primary Education in central Athens. A fairly large crowd was gathered, composed mainly by teachers but also with some students present. The protesters attempted to send a committee inside the building, in order to expose their arguments to the director. They were denied entrance by the security however, and as they insisted on entering, soon the riot police appeared. The children were immediately sent away, as the riot police violently proceed to push away the crowd from the buildings entrance. “Do you have children? How do they like their school?”, I heard a protester ask a policeman. The protesters’ crowd soon scattered under the threat of arrests. It’s weird, I was thinking as I was walking away, how the Greek state chooses to converse with its citizens.