Report fails to tell the full education story

Valuable without a doubt though they are, reports such as the OECD’s Education at a Glance have two major drawbacks. They are based on previous years' data, which are out of date (how could it be otherwise), and they are often too late to affect government decisions made under the weight of real events – political, economic, social and cultural.

How valuable these reports are to educators, parents, and other educational practitioners as the report claims is a moot point, but experience teaches that politicians are notoriously bad students, often acting on the basis of ideology rather than rationalism.

Reports such as Education at a Glance may be valuable for what they say – but they could be even more valuable if what they do not say was published. The Greek section drawn from the report, for instance, has the usual statistics relating to ages and gender as well as comparative positions in the OECD league.

But it also has a large and extremely important gap, which renders the report almost useless: it says nothing in the section relating to investment in education; or the subsections such as annual expenditure per student, whether in pre-primary, primary, secondary or tertiary education; or the total public and private expenditure on education, either as a percentage of gross national product or in real figures.

Nor are there figures for public expenditure on education in Greece as a proportion of total public expenditure, or the share of private expenditure on educational institutions. Moreover, it says nothing under the section on schools and teachers of the ratio of students to teaching staff – again at all levels – although it goes on to analyse the number of compulsory teaching hours by student age and level of education.

That is, matters that are all hot political subjects as well as important components of policy planning are missing. The absence of this information weakens the report substantially as well as begging the question: why? Why are these fields left blank? Have the Greek government and the relevant agencies refused to provide the data? Was the OECD unable to gather the data? Or was the information deliberately withheld? And, if the latter, why was no effort made to obtain the data by other means?

Was it due to the inability of the organisation to gather the relevant data or was it the result of an agreement with the Greek government to withhold it? If the government refused to provide the data, or asked the OECD to withhold it, why did the organisation not contact the teachers' federation, for instance, or other agencies, which could have provided figures for the ratio of students to teachers at least.

Then the report notes that teachers’ pay fell significantly between 2009 and 2011: “Gross salaries fell by 17% in real terms between 2009 and 2011 while in the OECD area teachers' salaries fell by around 2% on average during that period.”

This is a huge drop and an immense difference between Greece and the rest of the OECD. But the current reality is far worse. Because of further cuts and new taxes imposed by the government, along with the abolition of supplements and other measures, the real reduction in teacher salaries in 2013 is in the region of 30%-35%.

The report notes that Greek women outperform men at all levels of education. But is this really something to celebrate, when countries are striving to establish equality between the sexes, at least in spirit, around the world? Instead of accepting this, should countries not establish programmes and give opportunities to both genders so they progress together in a spirit of cooperation?

In the same section, the report claims that overall education attainment is higher than in 2000 and that it rose sharply between 2000 and 2011. But it is doubtful if the trend is continuing given existing Education Ministry policies that include the merging of schools, increasing numbers of students per class, and reductions in teacher salaries and increases in their working hours, as well as sharp cuts to expenditure on and investment in education in general that is necessary to bring the country out of the crisis.

One part of the report refers to those who are neither employed nor in education or training in 2011, with 30% among the 25- to 29-year-olds – the highest among OECD countries, where the average is 20%. Again this figure is not surprising given the high unemployment among the young at 67% and general unemployment at 29%. The deep disappointment engendered in the population and among youth in particular is recognised in the report when it says that “regardless of qualifications the crisis has hit the younger generation hardest”.

Other findings are more or less as expected although they still raise questions. In 2011, the report says, foreign students comprised 5% of tertiary education enrolments, highest among OECD countries in the region (with Italy and Turkey having 4% and 1% respectively). But it is not clear if these are visiting students from other countries or children of immigrants who have lived in Greece for a long time but have not acquired Greek nationality; this is a hotly contested subject currently, with the government turning increasingly to extreme right policies.

The rate of smoking in Greece, at 50%, is the highest among OECD countries among 25- to 64-year-olds who have attained secondary education (OECD average: 32.5%); and only second (at 40%) among those who have a tertiary education, just below Chile with 52% and almost double the OECD average of 21%.

Although there are antismoking laws providing for heavy fines, not only are these not observed they are blatantly ignored – and not only by the people themselves but also by proprietors of establishments and the authorities. The expense to the country on average is in the region of €5 billion in hospital costs and medicines.

In another political reality, Education at a Glance would have been a valuable tool in the hands of policy-makers to set the trends for education’s future developments. As it is, it has been left behind by the rapid political and economic events.

At the moment, the visiting troika in Greece is demanding 12,500 redundancies from the government workforce, with 80% to come from teachers. The ministry has already announced an increase of two hours in teacher work attendance, the appointment of only 2,000 substitute teachers instead of the expected 10,000, and the transfer of teachers from secondary to primary schools, establishing a so-called teacher mobility programme to cover school needs.

Teachers, who have just been released from a month-long civil mobilisation (effectively placed under martial law) to prevent them from striking during the Panhellenic and Internal School examinations, are biding their time.

They are containing their rising anger during the summer months but are determined to fight for their rights in the autumn. The teachers’ federation has given a taste of things to come by announcing sustained strike action will take place with the start of the school year in September.