Greek students say they're upset with barren schools and incompetent administrators -- but teachers fume over the same conditions.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 03/10/11
High-school students rallied in central Athens against textbook shortages throughout the country. [Reuters]
For Irene Aggeletou, 17, the worst part of going to high school in the Athens suburb of Peristeri is the thought of sitting in a dreary, graffiti-scarred building that looks like an abandoned army barracks, void of maps, clocks, or colour.
Students now are angry that textbooks have been delayed, not because of austerity measures in a near-bankrupt country, but due to bureaucratic snafus that have state printing works cranking away furiously to catch up.
Teachers were told to give students DVDs and make photocopies, although they've complained that will be costlier than printing the books, and that their photocopiers are often broken. It's that kind of inefficiency that upsets students, along with substandard buildings and rooms as austere as the country's coffers.
"Imagine. I have done this for 12 years. It's very annoying and you can't imagine how awful it is to wake up every morning and to think I go to that … thing [school]," Aggeletou told SETimes. A week into the school year, students at her school occupied the building in protest, locking out teachers, in a tactic repeated at other schools.
As Greece is getting by on a series of loans in a 110 billion-euro rescue package from the EU-IMF-European Central Bank troika, schools have suddenly become a symbol of what's wrong in a country that is broke and broken: 16% unemployment, nearly 10% deficit, while 70% of young Greeks say they will flee to other countries for a new life.
Education Ministry spokesman Yiannis Mastrogeorgio told SETimes, "The books will be delivered by mid-October. There is always a short delay because of the Greek bureaucracy." He said schools in remote areas and islands had gotten most books.
The ministry blamed the delay on Greece's Supreme Administrative Court, which it said took 49 days longer than allowed to approve the purchase of paper. Mastrogeorgio said, "We tried to implement a digital school, adopting new technology," such as using the DVDs. But, he added, "We said photocopies is one solution," and that the ministry, short on cash, would somehow find the money.
Primary School Teachers' Federation head Komninos Mantas told the newspaper Kathimerini that teachers were preparing for the "worst school year in Greece's history", and he didn't believe government timetables. "There is no way we are going to have the books before Christmas," he added.
Litsa Braila, who has been teaching Greek for 29 years, told SETimes that she's toughing it out, although many teachers are fearful they could wind up in the government's labour reserve pool, laid off at 60% pay for a year and then fired. "I would like it to be better. Without textbooks, it's miserable," she said.
How does she teach? "We have to use our experience and knowledge," she said, quickly adding, "and photocopies".
Aggeletou, a senior, said she will probably go a university outside Greece to study criminology. "I know it's bad if we all leave because no one will be here but we don't want to stay," she said. "Everywhere is better than here."