Minister prepares to address ‘human crisis’

While new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his economy ministry’s staff are scouring the European capitals in search of support for an alternative policy to Greece’s austerity programme, top bureaucrats at the education ministry are poring over plans to deal with immediate problems before releasing their long-term targets.

The programme of the new left-wing government, which promises to reform the country and revitalise the people, will be outlined in the first session of parliament but there are already some indications of how the Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs leadership intends to move forward.

Addressing a human crisis

“First of all we will address the ‘human crisis’ in schools and afterwards we will deal with the rest of the problems in education,” said Professor Aristides Baltas, Minister for Culture, Education and Religious Affairs, during a press conference at the new expanded ministry of education.

Baltas was referring to the many shortages such as lack of food, heat and teachers in many schools as a result of the austerity measures. This has led many nutritionists and doctors to express serious fears regarding the long-term effects on Greek youth.

Among the priority measures is reform of legislation that brought discord within the entire education community and created the prospect of article 16 in the Greek constitution being abolished. This provides for free state education for all citizens and precludes the establishment of private universities with their probable high fees.

A new legal framework will scrap management councils in universities, propose a new means for the election of rectors, re-instate political asylum in universities, and encourage the development of electronic libraries, as well as introducing other measures.

Solving ‘eternal student’ problem

An immediate priority is a solution for the problem of the so-called ‘eternal students’, who are mostly obliged to work in order to provide for themselves and their families, and have abandoned their studies. These unfortunates have been told by the institutions – at the behest of the previous government – that they will be struck from the student register.

The new leadership at the ministry is keen to offer these students a second opportunity to finish their studies and get a degree. They will now be offered a period of no less than two semesters to declare their interest in continuing by completing a single form. After this, they will be allowed all the time they require to complete their studies.

Another immediate problem is to find a settlement for the thousands of students who sought a transfer to another university for economic reasons, in many cases to be closer to their family home and thereby to save substantial costs by not living away from home.

Another plan is to disengage secondary education studies from entry to higher education. This has been a long-term demand from the academic community but was never attempted by successive ministers.

“This year’s programme will not change so as to avoid upsetting the students,” Baltas said. “But the grades of the first and second class of senior high school will not be taken into consideration for entry into higher education – this has immediate effect.”

The minister also revealed that the long-term plans included turning secondary education into an independent study cycle, and not a waiting room for higher education; abolishing Panhellenic-type examinations; and allowing students free access to higher education.

An encouraging start

The first acts of the new administration are encouraging and many people who were sceptical about the prospect of a left-wing government are beginning to feel more optimistic.

Others are waiting anxiously to hear from the lips of the prime minister himself what the government’s programme, to be outlined in parliament, will be and the way he intends to proceed and provide solutions for the country’s many and pressing problems. They also want to see the reaction of Greece’s European partners before they begin to feel more confident in the future.

Greece undoubtedly has many problems but its potential is also enormous, with its strategic position in the Mediterranean, its natural resources under and on the ground, its mild climate, and the unlimited alternative sources of energy.

Undoubtedly, too, the country is entering a new and unprecedented political orbit with the new government an elixir of hope providing new-found confidence for the population. People seem determined, whatever the cost, to shake off the Merkel-Schäuble austerity measures, believing they are exacting a belated revenge for the staunch resistance of the Greeks which contributed to the German defeat in World War II.

Then there is the hegemony of the tripartite supervising committee whose policies and lack of acumen nearly brought Greece to bankruptcy and led the population to the poorhouse and despair.