Greek linguist, philologist, and former Rector of Athens University George Babiniotis penned an interesting open letter to the newly appointed Greek Education Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis. The latter has made quite a name for himself as a techie credited with digitizing the Greek public sector and leveraging technology to facilitate the citizenry. The decision to entrust the Education portfolio to him triggered widespread speculation over planned reforms to Greek schools and universities. However, Babiniotis – who also briefly served as Education minister in a national unity government and is President of the heralded Arsakeia-Tositseia schools – raises some interesting points regarding the need for the technological upgrade of the Greek education system to coincide with substantive reforms.
Babiniotis characteristically notes that although the phrase “education is the only solution” has become somewhat of a cliché, the issue of redesigning the school curriculum remains overlooked. He argues that effective education imparts substantive and useful knowledge, promotes values, principles, and rules, and aims equally to cultivate the minds and souls of students – something that has been overlooked or downgraded in recent decades.
Underscoring the need to decouple the high school curriculum from high-stakes college entrance exams, he advocates for a reduction in the information being transmitted to students, favoring quality over quantity, so that data can be consciously transformed into knowledge. Another issue he raises is the preoccupation with providing supposed knowledge at the expense of conduct (i.e., ethos, values, empathy, respect for boundaries, rights, others’ personalities, etc.).
If true education reform were to be supported on a non-partisan level, it could cultivate a new generation of responsible citizens who stand out for their values, ideals, principles, and a common code of conduct. Likewise, it would promote critical thinking, making citizens less susceptible to all forms of exploitation, while also promoting widespread social empathy. Students would go on to become engaged citizens who display concern, knowledge, and interest in public affairs, while also being prepared for the challenges and demands of our rapidly changing society.
To achieve all of the above, Babiniotis argues that the state must invest in future teachers. He laments that somewhere along the way, out of a misguided sense of progressivism, teachers were discouraged from performing one of their chief duties – teaching students about life values, traditional Hellenic mores and customs, the Orthodox Christian faith, national struggles, respect for family and one’s fellow man, as well as the value of the Greek language. It is precisely this seminal role that society and the state must come to once again appreciate and empower. Importantly, high salaries are required to attract truly excellent and genuine pedagogues, not just employees going through the motions. Future educators need to be an example of dedication to their vocation, capable of inspiring students, influencing the environment around them, and gaining the appreciation and respect of their fellow citizens.
Babiniotis’ proposals are spot on regarding the investment that Greece needs to make in its youth and their upbringing to help Hellenism face the challenges of the 21st century.
Sadly, like a slew of previous governments, the current administration’s priorities seem to lie elsewhere. The Prime Minister is heading to the Thessaloniki International Fair this month to tout new national identity cards, reforms to combat tax evasion, and concessions to the LGBTQ+ agenda, among others. Sadly, however, there is no indication that the substantive reforms to national education so badly needed are anywhere on the agenda.
The same could be said for Hellenism in the Diaspora – at least in the United States. Diaspora leaders consistently shirk responsibility for making serious upgrades and investments in Greek education. For instance, the money and time wasted by the Archdiocese on the botched attempt to redesign its Charter and other publicity stunts, while Greek schools (the parish’s traditional alter ego, situated directly across it and working in unison with it struggle to maintain their operation) is lamentable.
With the start of a new school year, the usual lip service about how “education is the only solution” will be heard, however, unless these words are backed up by actions, they are hollow. As materialism prevails, many will continue to be duped by the trinkets being dangled before us, thus losing sight of the big picture. For Hellenism to rediscover its true nobility, the issue of education must somehow return to the forefront. Otherwise, its fate worldwide will be that of the indigenous peoples of yesteryear who lost their land and legacy to colonists in exchange for shiny mirrors and beads.
The realization that Paideia is more than just the dissemination of information or a ticket to a lucrative job appears to be a challenge of existential proportions for Hellenism as it heads toward the second quarter of the 21st century.
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