GREECE: From Pythagoras To Purgatory – Education in Modern Greece

GREECE: From Pythagoras To Purgatory – Education in Modern Greece

8677750589_79cb31e6a1_zWho hasn’t heard of the name Pythagoras before? Or, for that matter Archimedes, Aristotle, Plato or Hypatia? Even if you don’t know exactly what these people believed or taught, those ancient names probably ‘ring a bell.’ For those of you fortunate enough to have had a good level of education you will probably be  familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem. Remember those maths lessons back then when we were teens? Most of you will recognise the above names as originating from Ancient Greece. Pythagoras, for instance, is best known as a mathematician who lived in the 500’s BC and also pursued knowledge in the fields of music and philosophy.

Well, I’m really proud to live in a country which has such a  history of academic and cultural excellence. In addition to the world of academia, remember that the first Olympic Games took place in Olympia in 776 BC! Can you imagine that?  Most people think of the Games as being a much more recent creation. However, the concept of combining physical excellence and political and social benefits had its inception in Greece many centuries prior to the modern day games that we are currently familiar with.

So, with such an impressive and honourable history in sport, teaching and education, how does Greece’s glorious past influence its present generation of scholars?

Tragically, the politicians and educators who are responsible for the education system in modern Greece seem to have forgotten ancient past glories.

Pupils who want to continue to tertiary education really have to suffer years of hell in order to get the grades they need for university or colleges. The state education system has been a disappointment to teachers, parents and pupils for decades, REGARDLESS of which political party has been in power. Teachers are ridiculously underpaid considering the years of hard work and expense they’ve invested in getting their degree. Parents are forced to pay for private tuition and students miss out on many areas of their childhood due to running nonstop  from day school to evening tuition.

There was a lot of publicity this summer when a bright 16 year old girl wrote a letter to parliament complaining that she was a human being and not a robot! She also expressed her fury that the new system implemented this year was EVEN WORSE than the previous one. Now students grades are counted in the last THREE years before finishing secondary school. That means if you mess up in one or two lessons when you’re 15/16, those grades will haunt you through school till you’re 17/18 and lower your whole grade average. You don’t have the option to rewrite the lesson either! Too much pressure for too many children. This both saddens and amazes me! Those who are responsible for the national curriculum are highly educated and experienced in their fields. So why has there been such a public outcry this year at the new “improved” system?

Well, quite frankly, it’s dreadful!

Virtually all Greek children who want to get good grades follow a similar programme. They go to their state run schools till around 2o’clock. As state secondary schools don’t have dining halls or refectories, the children then go home to eat lunch or take their own packed lunch to school. In the afternoon the lessons continue as most tuition in the day school isn’t adequate to prepare students for national exams. This means parents are obliged to hire private tutors, if the family budget can afford them, or children have to go back to “Frontisteria” or private tutoring schools. The second option is usually a little cheaper than the first. I know many families who have 2 children and the monthly tuition fees are at least ONE of the parents salaries. Imagine other families I know who have 3 or 4 children!!! It’s pretty common for parents to get bank loans or sell property for their offsprings education BEFORE they go to uni/college. The Greek State has prided itself for decades on its free education system. In practical and realistic terms, I don’t know any child who has entered university without doing private lessons, going to a private day school or following  courses at the evening “Frontisteria.”

So the idea of a free Greek education system is a farce in reality. The tragic thing is that with a crushed economy, in some demographics we have an unemployment rate of 40-50%. Many families now have only one breadwinner and its not uncommon to have families with both parents out of work.

So how can these families afford education? Basically, they can’t. They have to rely on the goodwill of state school teachers to give extra homework or work through breaks to cover the material which comes up in state exams.

Their kids also have to make super human efforts on their own if they want any kind of realistic job prospects.

I’m a private tutor myself and some years ago I worked in the UK doing language summer schools. I had teens from all over the world but I remember that some of my shiniest stars were from Greece and Japan. The Greek kids were very knowledgeable in many areas and I assumed the Greek education curriculum must rock! That was just before I came to live here when I realised that those students usually came from middle class homes and could afford all the extra tuition not included in the state system.

So what’s happening internationally about our right to free education and knowledge until at least the age of 17/18?  I’m British so I take it for granted that compulsory education should be till 16 and all levels of education should be free until the end of secondary school. Acquaintances from around the world have told me similar stories about education in their countries. The general consensus is that state curriculums are getting worse and trying to guarantee your child’s entry to tertiary education means forking out an awful lot of money! Friends in the USA, UK and Germany have put their children into private day schools or boarding schools. Colleagues who live in Denmark praise their system but this is only one that I know of personally which gets a glowing report!

I hope that your system isn’t like our Greek system.

As my ambitious 14 year old son says:”Going to school here is like being sent to PURGATORY!”

I’d be really interested to know about the education system in your part of the world. Do you have to pay fees or is everything provided by the government?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Ann Marie Wraight of Greece. Photo credit: Tom Brown. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Ann Marie Wraight

Having lived in 4 different countries, Ann Marie finds it difficult to give a short answer about where she's from. She regards herself: Brit by birth, Aussie by nature, with a sprinkling of Greek and German based on her insatiable appetite for tasty food and chilled beer! This World Mom has been married to her Greek soulmate for 16 years and they are the proud but constantly challenged parents of two overactive teenage boys. (She secretly wonders sometimes if she was given the wrong babies when she left the maternity clinic.) She can't explain the fascination and ability that her 13 and 14 year-olds show in math and physics or that both boys are ranked 1st and 2nd nationally in judo. Ann Marie can only conclude that those years of breastfeeding, eating home cooked meals and home tutoring really DO make a difference in academic and physical performance! The family is keeping its fingers crossed that---with the awful economic crash in Greece---continued excellence in math and/or judo will lead to university scholarships... In addition to writing, enjoying a good glass of wine and movies, Ann Marie also works as a teacher and tends their small, free-range farm in the Greek countryside.

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EYE ON CULTURE: Brazil and the World Cup

EYE ON CULTURE: Brazil and the World Cup

Kids and Brazil World Cup

Even if you have heard very little about Brazil, you probably know soccer is a big thing here. In fact, for a long time Brazil was known mostly for its soccer, its Carnaval (its version of Mardi Gras), its beautiful women and, perhaps, its forests. Unfortunately, considering that Brazil is a huge and extremely diverse country in so many senses, that is a very limited view of the country. However, as we are a few days away of the World Cup, today I want to speak about soccer. The World Cup is something that has always brought about an overall sense of excitement, regardless of whether one is or not a soccer lover. It is the time people bring out their flags and most everyone shows a tad of patriotism. Of all of the World Cups I have witnessed in my lifetime, three come to mind. The first is also the first World Cup I remember, held in Mexico, in 1986. I lived in a small town in northeastern Brazil, and I recall being enthralled by the big, spontaneous party in the streets after Brazil won one of the games. There were firecrackers and people parading and dancing in the town plaza.

Others drove up and down the cobblestone streets honking their horns, the vehicles full of people half out of the windows or even on top of the cars, shouting “Brazil, Brazil!”, while waving their flags.

Unfortunately, Brazil did not win that cup, and the heavy silence that followed was a big contrast to that party, even to myself, who barely knew about soccer then and didn’t really understand what was going on. Fast forward to the 1990s. 1994 was a big mark, of course, because Brazil won the cup for the fourth time. I was a teenager and much of the excitement was because so-and-so players were cute. The mother of a friend got a couple of autographs of the team captain for me and a friend of mine, which I still have. The upside was that I was visiting family in the United States, where we watched the games together and where the cup was actually happening (although I didn’t go to any games live). On the other hand, I remember being somewhat bummed because I was still travelling when the players returned to Brazil and paraded in one of the main streets of my city to commemorate the victory. And, of course, there was a big party that I missed. The third cup that I recall with fondness happened in 2006. One of my best childhood friends, who is from India and presently lives in Singapore, came over to visit, and we watched some games together. The World Cup always brings special memories of our friendship as she was a soccer enthusiast (she’s the friend who got the other autograph!), and we always saw the games together as teenagers. Unfortunately, that cup in 2006 was the last time we saw each other in person.

This year, the World Cup will be in Brazil. In fact, one of the games will be in a town neighboring mine. When one of the World Moms Blog editors suggested I write a post about the pre-cup climate here in Brazil it made me realize two things: 1) how detached I have been from this whole World Cup thing lately and how little excitement anticipation of the games have brought me this time 2) a sense that I might not be the only one feeling this way.

The last time the World Cup was held in Brazil was in 1970. Had a World Cup occurred here during my adolescent years, it would have been a big happening for my friends and I! Yet ,now, we have three kids, a demanding job and very little spare time; and what I really have been looking forward to are the days I will have off because of the games and how much overdue work I will get done while others watch the games.

Yes, in case you don’t know, everything stops here during the games that involve Brazil – stores close, companies send their employees home early or TVs get turned on in the companies themselves, and so on. Basically everyone stops to watch the game, no matter what day of the week.

That takes me to the second point. As I said, I have been a little detached from this whole World Cup reality, so I don’t know how accurate the following words will be, but the feeling I get is that the excitement is not as big as it would have been a few years ago, and it probably is a good sign. When it was first decided that the cup would be here in 2014, there truly was a sense of excitement, not only for the championship itself, but because of possible job, business opportunities and the like.

Yet, the years went by and people witnessed millions (billions?) spent on stadiums and other cup-related costs, while so many other essential areas need investment, notably education and health care.

To illustrate, here is a joke that has been going around these days. The parents take their newborn baby to the notary to get his birth certificate. When the notary asks what they are going to name the baby, the mother says: “World Cup Stadium – that way the government will surely invest in him!” As I said, I don’t know how accurate this perception of lesser excitement is, or if I am an anomaly, but if it is true, I take it as a good sign. It means that the population is maturing and that at least part of it won’t fall for the bread and circus trick any longer. Not that the World Cup, soccer or any kind of entertaining is bad in itself – but, as a country, there must be priorities.

Are you a Brazilian mother? If so, do you share the same sentiment?  And, for all the World Moms out there, who will you be supporting in the games? 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by EcoZiva in Brazil. 

Ecoziva (Brazil)

Eco, from the greek oikos means home; Ziva has many meanings and roots, including Hebrew (brilliance, light), Slovenian (goddess of life) and Sanskrit (blessing). In Brazil, where EcoZiva has lived for most of her life, giving birth is often termed “giving the light”; thus, she thought, a mother is “home to light” during the nine months of pregnancy, and so the penname EcoZiva came to be for World Moms Blog. Born in the USA in a multi-ethnic extended family, EcoZiva is married and the mother of two boys (aged 12 and three) and a five-year-old girl and a three yearboy. She is trained as a biologist and presently an university researcher/professor, but also a volunteer at the local environmental movement.

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INDIA: Perfection, Competition and Swami Vivekananda

INDIA: Perfection, Competition and Swami Vivekananda


"Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man – Swami Vivakananda"

“Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man – Swami Vivakananda”

Sometime back I wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s school teacher and my perspective and how it was appropriate for our lives here too. To bring up a good human being and to help him/her learn and get educated is the role of the parent and also the teacher at school.

Well, there were these competitions going on in my seven year old son’s school again, here, in India. This time it was Western Music. I am so fond of these musicals. My son sang some of my favorites and then Que Sara Sara and Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. He continued to the preliminaries, quarter finals, semi-finals and the finals. But one day while preparing for the finals at home, my son suddenly said, “Not all are going to win.” 

I said, “Yes, they are not. But if you want to win, you need to practise.”


He was not the type of person who was interested to sing, but the type who loved to listen to music and songs. And I discovered this during this time.

“But amma, I don’t care.”

“Well, you should do your best. And then if you don’t get to win, that is fine. But you should not just give up.”

“I am not giving up. I just don’t want to sing.”


Well, I was at a loss of words. I did not want him to do something he did not want to do. But then we were already into the finals, and I thought was it not a sheer waste if he did not even participate? This got me thinking…

The next day I found this quote in his school’s website.

Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man – Swami Vivakananda.

We send our children to school for education and the teachers and parents are loving and affectionate and try to encourage the children to imbibe knowledge.

But then, what do they actually learn? Only what they chose to!

And also, sometimes they don’t learn and at other times they are very smart in academics. They also indulge in sports and other extra-curricular activities. We are happy, sometimes sad, and at times indifferent to various achievements, successes and failures and mediocre performances of our children. So many choices, actions, results, and yet Swami Vivekananda says we are all perfect.

If everyone is perfect, then where are the gaps? Why do only some people win? Why are there so many differences and scales of grades? ‘Manifestation’ is the significant word. What manifests out of a child is important. And whatever manifests, the society, the parents and the teachers are responsible to some extent. And then the children themselves are finally responsible. We bring up a child, giving him a lot of room to explore, think, discover and find joy, and, thereby, allow him to manifest his perfection.

I did not ask him to practise a lot for the singing competition. If he is not interested, let him not be. Maybe he is interested in building robots. Maybe he is interested in literary pursuits. Maybe he is interested in astronomy when he points out the pole star and Venus.

Because he is talented to sing, does not mean he should want to do it or become the next pop star. Whatever he allows to be manifested from himself, only will be, and I cannot force it.

And the reason for what he focuses on, no one can understand. It is his own mind acting under his own will and there are no explanations for that. So, let me not put a restraint to the manifestation of his perfection. Let him lay down his own options and channel his own interests.

In the end, he did end up participating in the finals, but without practising and the results are not out! But I shouldn’t care about the results because he doesn’t, right?

Is your child exercising independence in what he wants to do in life and what he wants to achieve? If so, are they different from what you think? And how do you handle it?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Purnima, our Indian mother writing from Chennai, India. Her contributions to the World Moms Blog can be found here. She also rambles at The Alchemist’s Blog.

Photo credit to Wiki Media Commons.


Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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