Twin reforms spark fresh unrest

5th September 1997 at 01:00

The fragile peace between Greek teachers and the country's education ministry, achieved at such enormous cost last spring, was shattered just days before the start of the new school year.

The reason is the unilateral decision by Gerasimos Arsenis, the education secretary, to press ahead with two reforms: abolishing the appointments register - staunchly opposed by unemployed teachers - and the establishment of a teachers' ability assessment, loathed by all. In one fell swoop, Mr Arsenis managed to unite against him the entire teaching profession.

The abolition of the appointments register, from which the ministry completes the school staff complement each year, is the biggest thorn in the teachers' flesh. There are 120,000 unemployed teachers on the register (as against 60,000 working in schools).

If they are lucky, at the present rate of annual appointments, some teachers may be appointed after...146 years! The average waiting time is 44 years. Teachers of literature and foreign languages are a little more fortunate, as they may be appointed after a mere 16 years.

Teachers go on the register because it is there. While waiting, many do another job, and others settle into another profession. And there is always private coaching, or the many private crammers. When appointment time comes, many have forgotten what teaching is about, or find rapid changes in methodology have rendered them either unable or unsuitable to teach.

The education ministry claims the register is anachronistic. Neither public opinion nor the unemployed teachers would argue with that, but they are prepared to defend it to the death as the only democratic, objective criteria of employment in a country where a job, more often than not, depends on political patronage or favouritism.

The ministry claims the register acts as a brake on the improvement of education, penalises the best teachers and favours mediocrity. It proposes to replace it with country-wide, biennial, open competitions and employ successful candidates in strict order of merit.

But teachers are sceptical. They have no confidence in competitions, "independent" committees, "objective" grading systems and the like. What will be tested and who will be doing the testing are likely to be huge stumbling- blocks.

Moreover, if unsuccessful teachers are allowed to re-enter successive competitions, how do they ensure they keep abreast of developments? How bad are they if they fail at the first attempt and how good if they succeed at the fourth or fifth attempt?

These questions have not received convincing answers. Cynics claim that the education secretary is attempting to hold teachers hostage and turn education into his own personal fiefdom to use as he pleases during election periods.

According to the Teachers' Federation, there is a shortfall of 40,000 teaching posts in the country and appointing new recruits on a massive scale is the only way to improve education. But given the economic state of the country, this is no more than a pipedream.

Teachers' assessment? They don't even want to hear about it.

The battlelines have been drawn. Mr Arsenis has declared his determination to press ahead with the reforms, and the teachers are equally determined to oppose them. They have already scheduled a series of marches, demonstrations, go-slows and a strike immediately after the start of the school year if the proposals are not withdrawn and negotiations are not held.

This was the coolest summer since records began in Greece. If there is no change in the conflicting parties' entrenched positions, the autumn is likely to be a real scorcher.

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