parthenon

Our journalist looks at the Greece’s issues through the lens of educational theory, defining them as a problem of pedagogy.

When Greece and other European countries go through economic turmoil, it tends to taint their financial, social and political systems and even their standards. In addition to this, problems to do with local ecologies and wider unemployment emerge which governments are called on to confront. Though we should perhaps be distrustful of unilateral solutions to any of these problems, much less all of them, it is not too idealistic to begin by looking inwards.

In this dynamic and ephemeral era, traditional methods of mild adjustment seem an insufficient measure and there is a dire need for change at all levels of society. It might be possible to effect this change through education, which is after all the foundation of a person’s constitution. Therefore, it will be interesting to take the Greek paradigm and examine whether the educational system is contributing to the sustainment of people’s passiveness; sustaining an adherence to obsolete and problematic ideas as well as an inability to use critical thinking and a deficiency of holistic approaches. According to Dr Nicholas Petroulakis: “Critical thinking, in brief, is the creation of the thinking mind, and when this creation is incorporated into the cognitive world it will comprise a powerful weapon at our disposal to solve future problems.” In addition, a holistic approach can contribute to creativity and innovation, educational empowerment, lifelong learning and experiential learning.

teaching a class
Is teacher-centred learning contributing to Greek difficulties? | Image: Public domain

To escape from this academic and cultural nose-dive we all have to look inwards and question ourselves, to redefine ourselves within society. We must try to deeply understand what has happened and why we are in this position, because some of the answers might only be discoverable through introspection. But first we need the education to explore them fully.

In referring to Greece we should realize that we are dealing with a moral, social and conceptual crisis. People are confused and disorientated, they place no trust in politicians or the institutions behind them. They are afraid to accept new ideas and feel trapped in a deficient system where they are constantly questioning their values. It may be time, therefore, to reconsider and reconstruct these past values. The answers we seek exist within us and we should consciously and critically challenge prevailing views. It is time to set new requirements within society, to change attitudes and develop our mindsets. This is possible through education, that is where we should place hope and investment, where we should revolt against the old, traditional ways of thinking.

The answers we seek exist within us and we should consciously and critically challenge our past views and ideas.

The Greek educational system can quite fairly be characterized as a completely traditional, teacher-centered approach. Despite the fact that the Greek curriculum refers to modern methods, teachers often seem utterly incapable of overcoming old ways and consistently fail to incorporate a multifaceted approach. Role plays, peer interaction and collaboration are just some of the styles neglected in greek classrooms. This happens for two reasons.

Firstly, students and parents are not ready to be exposed to and accept such a change: they expect the teacher to be the final authority. That problem probably stems from the fact that such innovative ideas go against what they have learned from their parents and consequently seem strange and unacceptable. Pasi Sahlberg stresses the importance of exterior factors such as family, the community, social capital and peer groups in education: “even the best schools cannot achieve good learning alone.” As a result the teacher’s role is limited, without initiatives and risk taking.

Secondly, teachers in Greece are civil servants, administratively controlled, which prevents them using new innovations and creative ideas. In practical terms they are not trained in this way but in the conventional style of teaching. Therefore, a teacher usually remains the authority in their classroom, the main source of information. The teacher is considered to be the expert – leading the classroom with absolute control, deciding how learning will be conducted, accepting the right answers and rejecting the wrong. Further to this, one finds examples where the teacher is not only the undisputed authority of the subject that he teaches, but also comprises a moral, a rational and a legal authority within the confines of the classroom. This is clearly a pernicious concept for children as well as an unfair and unrealistic expectation to place on teachers. In the words of James Paul Gee: “There are 112 ways to answer a question but we only choose one.”

In this way students become more passive. Critical thinking and choice are reduced, almost to the point of elimination. The student becomes a passive receiver, unable to take initiatives or risks, afraid to be wrong, shy of interaction and without trust. They have little or no connection with the learner’s true talents; collaboration, collectivity and interaction are almost absent. This suggests that we are effectively teaching children from a young age to unquestioningly submit to authority and accept their position in society, to become tolerant and passive, unable to solve problems, learn for themselves or cooperate with others.

Only a society and an educational system free of fear, without any kind of economic, social or psychological terror, will offer prosperity and lead to mutual trust, among people within and between countries and between students and educators. Then people will feel ready to explore, to take risks and accept the unknown, to dissent against stereotypical and extreme views that encourage racism, corruption and isolation of minority groups. A society of equality, justice, and transparency that builds trust and happiness is only achievable through the awakening of creative mental faculties on a national scale. As Sahlberg succinctly says: “The fear-free school is a place where students are not afraid to try new ideas and ways of thinking.”

Cover photo: Cornell University Library (Public Domain)

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