GREECE: Adult education – pathway to the future

Adult education took a backseat in Greece until recently, although the educational level of the population has been pushed substantially upwards in the last half century as a result of rapid economic development – and following membership of the EU, it has accelerated enormously. Now, adult education has become an important part of a drive for improved conditions and services in the country. The General Secretariat for Adult Education, jointly funded by the European Social Fund and the Greek Government with €30 million, is responsible for designing and implementing a wide range of programmes in lifelong learning.

Greece came out of World War II badly bruised as it also suffered a divisive civil war which retarded progress. Primary, secondary and higher education had to be given priority. Today, it would be difficult to find anyone under 40 without at least a first degree, many with MAs and a fair number of PhDs (often from well known foreign universities): a significant achievement in a country where the majority of the population was largely illiterate just after the war. With formal educational levels raised, adult education has become a new priority.

The GSAE supports a network of adult training centres, second chance schools, and adult distance learning, teacher-training and e-learning throughout the country. It designs, co-ordinates and support measures for basic education and training for adults and people threatened with social exclusion such as immigrants, minorities and refugees.

Konstantinos Tsamadias, General Secretary of Adult Education says: "We have made substantial progress in this area in the last five years. We are currently running 58 centres for adult education, 58 schools of second chance, seven inside jails, 54 schools for parents and a distance learning teacher training centre. We cater for a total of 256,000 adult students and we wish to increase that number."

Dimitris Mouzakis is responsible for the Centre for Adult Education and he said the centres offer 80,000 student places although only about 10% are not ultimately taken up for various technical reasons. But 80% to 85% of learners do graduate successfully. Mouzakis said the centres aimed to create active citizens, promoted equal opportunities, provided access to the labour market, improved basic education and skills, and the lives of ordinary people, including minority groups.

The Schools of Second Chance, created in 1997, are free schools that offer two years of study for adults of any age, gender and social status who have not completed their basic education. They are also co-funded by the EU and the state. The schools offer English, information technology and career advice as well as basic skills and the 25 hours-a-week lessons end in the same qualification as that in mainstream schools.

Distance learning is now also popular, especially given Greece's remote regions and scattered islands. The GSAE runs a distance learning centre and so does the Hellenic Open University, the University of Athens and universities in Thessaloniki, Patras, Thessaly, Ioannina, Crete, and Piraeus, as well as the Technological University of Athens. The Pedagogical Institute runs a distance-learning centre for teachers.

The open university's courses are in such huge demand (more than 60,000 applications for 4,000 places) that candidates are selected by lottery. Priority is given to those over the age of 25 and people with special needs but students must pay for their own fees and books.

Full report by Makki Marseilles