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The challenges of globalization: changes in education policy and practice in the Greek context.

Globalization has been associated with rapid and significant changes in national and international politics and a growing complexity in economic and sociocultural realms. Inevitably, the new realities create pressures in social and economic structures that, in turn, shape changes at national levels. The field of education is drawn into these changes as governments are pushed to adopt new systems. Zambeta (2002) argues that educational discourse and policies in Greece reflect the wider impact of globalization on the economy, politics, and culture.

Education has received considerable attention from policymakers in Greece in the last decade and owes that momentum to a variety of interrelated factors (Vidali & Adams, 2006). Foremost among these factors is the transformation of Greece, in a very short time, from a country that traditionally had a strict anti-immigration policy to a country that accepts a wide array of foreigners and immigrants. This shift has had a direct impact on the formation of a multicultural society, which, in turn, is reflected in the increasingly diverse student population. Another important factor is tied to Greek membership in the European Union and the EU's objectives to make the educational policies and practices more consistent across the union, as well as educate the region's students in a manner that will benefit the future economic status and stability of the European Union (Eurydice, 2005).

According to recent statistical figures (2003), foreign students constituted about 10 percent of the total school enrollment in Greece, while in some kindergartens in the large districts of Athens, 76.2 percent of the total class was composed of minority children (Katsikas, 2005; Scourtou, Vratsalis, & Govaris, 2004).

Educational policies and processes should be viewed in the light of the fact that cultural diversity is both an acknowledged and an essential feature of democracy. Despite that fact, we must recognize the very real existence of negative attitudes. Change is always difficult and the incorporation of newcomers into any existing social fabric is always met with some degree of resistance. Research is being conducted to identify both such problems within Greek schools and potential means of diminishing them (Dimakos & Tasiopoulou, 2003; Panagiotis, Konstantinou, & Hatzichristou, 2003). Educational approaches should allow children from diverse cultures not only to understand the cultural code of the mainstream society, but also to develop their own self-confidence and personal autonomy while they adapt to the school settings. The role of early years education is crucial because of its importance in the formation of personality and attitudes (Vidali & Adams, 2006).

The goal of intercultural education for an increasingly diverse student population requires two important processes: first, the favorable encounters of people of multiple cultures with different values and, second, efforts to abolish the invisible boundaries and divisional lines among these people for successful and harmonious coexistence. These goals are among the challenges of globalization that push governments to adopt initiatives in all systems.

New Policies Connected to Increased Immigration

The Greek demographic structure has witnessed major changes during the last 15 years, many of them brought on by the influx of immigrants (Vidali & Adams, 2006). In response, the Ministry of Education has developed new educational policies, depending on the various needs of newcomers. We can observe three phases of this implementation to date (Pelagidis, 2003):

Phase A: 1980-1989 was characterized primarily by the massive repatriation of emigrants who had gone to English-speaking (e.g., Canada, Australia) and German-speaking countries. It is estimated that by 1986, about 625,000 Greeks returned to Greece (Vergeti, 2003). New education policies prioritized a good knowledge of the Greek language as critical for children's success in school and social inclusion.

In 1981-82, in many primary and secondary schools, the Ministry of Education installed reception classes, which taught the Greek language and literature, and were parallel with the school timetable. In 1982-83, short courses ("frontistirio") were added at the end of the regular school day for such subjects as Greek language and Greek literature. Neither reception classes nor short courses could run more than 8 hours per week.

In 1984-85, primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools for migrated children (Sxolio Apodimon) were opened in the country's two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki.

Phase B: The period from 1990-96 was characterized mainly by the massive repatriation of emigrants from former countries of the Soviet Union, having an immediate impact on the student population in schools and placing unprecedented demands placed on educational personnel. The exact number of repatriates from that period is not clear, due to the uncontrolled (illegal) entrance of many of them. One report estimates that by 2000, about 200,000 repatriated Greeks had arrived from countries making up the former Soviet Union (General Secretary of Repatriates, Ministry of Macedonia-Thrace, 2000).

These new challenges led the Ministry of Education to adopt new policies aimed at improving the services provided to the children of newly arrived families (Law 2790/2000). The educational policy adopted in the first phase continued to be applied (Reception Classes and Short Courses) for the students from the former Soviet Union (Law 1894/1990). In 1990, Schools for Migrant Children were renamed as Schools for Repatriate Children (Sxolia Palinostoundon), and the organization, teaching curricula, and methods were improved (Law 1865/1989).

Phase C: The third phase, 1997 to the present, has been characterized by a reconsideration of the role of education as an important instrument for educational and social inclusion of all emigrant and repatriate children. The new policies reveal a more systematic effort of the state to promote the positive value of cultural diversity through education. The short period of 1995-99 saw a dramatic increase in the number of newly immigrated students. The enrollment rose from 8,455 newly immigrated students in 1995-1996 (0.6 percent of the total school population) to 35,751 by 1998-99, representing 2.5 percent of total student enrollment at all levels (Dretaki, 2001). By 2004, the impact of the immigration wave was notable at the secondary level. While there was an overall decrease of 8.9 percent in total school population, the immigrant student enrollment at the secondary level increased by 20.8 percent. Immigrant students now represent 10.4 percent of Greek secondary school students (Delithanasi, 2005).

The year 1996 was marked by the introduction of the theoretical and practical aspects of intercultural education, applied through the formulation, adoption, and implementation of the Intercultural Education Act. This act led to the founding of the Institute for the Greek Diaspora Education and Intercultural Studies (IPODE, 2005), which is responsible for the establishment of intercultural classes and the transformation of ordinary schools to Intercultural Schools at all levels of education. Intercultural Schools, which abide by the standard national curricula, were established across the country, particularly in the large cities; each one has a repatriated Greek and foreign student population that accounts for at least 45 percent of the total student enrollment. Around that time, the Centre for Intercultural Education at the University of Athens began operating a social integration program for repatriate and migrant students. Teachers working at Intercultural Schools receive considerable inservice training in conjunction with the program.

Today, there are 13 primary, 9 secondary, and 4 post-secondary Intercultural Schools; most are in large cities, where the majority of newcomers have settled. All of the teaching staff receive special training and are selected on the basis of their knowledge of methodology, teaching Greek as a second language, and intercultural education.

It is very clear that Greece reacted very quickly to meet the social and educational needs of newcomer schoolchildren through the introduction of innovative educational policies. But despite the government's efforts, the results are not quite satisfactory, and it seems that the transition from monocultural to multicultural education is not an easy process (Vidali & Giangounidis, 2003).

A gap exists between the state's responses to newcomers' educational needs and the native people's adaptation to the new reality of the times (Lakasas, 2003). It is a shameful global reality that in communities all over the world, many school administrators, teachers, and students are biased against newcomers (Adams & Kirova, 2006).

Cultural diversity, as a result of changing borders and increased mobility of people both within and outside of the European Union, is at the heart of contemporary debates about economic and social development in Europe. The European Union is looking for coordination, cooperation, and stability across the region as it grapples with how to develop into a true union of nations, while enabling the retention of national identities and cultures.

New Education Policies in Response to EU Goals

In its Lisbon meeting in March 2000, the European Council invited the Education Council to consider the future objectives of the education systems of the member states, focusing on common concerns and priorities while respecting national diversity. A consensus emerged concerning the challenges of adapting education and training systems across Europe. The Council set the following goals to be realized by 2010:

* Increase the quality and effectiveness of education and training systems in the European Union

* Facilitate the access of all to the education and training systems

* Open up education and training systems to the wider world.

The success of the European Union requires a solid contribution from the field of education and training in the member states through a strategic cooperative approach (Education Council, 2001). Within this context, new education policies have been introduced towards the attainment of these aims, such as:

At the preprimary level there are two primary changes: 1) new curriculum for kindergarten, based on developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood education, and 2) a whole-day kindergarten. This is a new type of kindergarten that accepts children for 8 hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.), offers lunch, and helps working parents.

Kindergartens in Greece traditionally accept children for four hours per day (8 a.m. to 12 noon), and have only one kindergarten teacher in the room with up to 20 children. Since kindergarten teachers work at school for four hours per day, one result of the new whole-day kindergarten was the appointment of many new kindergarten teachers. Each classroom now needs two teachers, one present from 8 a.m. to noon and the other from noon to 4 p.m. The number of whole-day kindergartens is growing, in response to parental demands, reaching 32 percent of all kindergartens by the beginning of 2006.

At the primary level the new initiatives also relate to curriculum and to length of day: 1) Schools for Parents informed parents of changes to the primary curriculum; 2) new educational programs and books have been introduced for all grades of primary school (Note: all the books are free to all students in the state's primary and secondary schools); 3) a second language has been introduced as a compulsory subject in the 5th grade of primary school, making English compulsory in the last four grades of primary school and throughout secondary schools; and 4) to benefit working parents, a whole-day primary school was introduced, established along the lines of whole-day kindergarten. In Greece, as in many other European nations, the programs of primary schools usually last until 1 or 2 p.m. each day. The whole-day primary school provides further educational programs until 4 p.m. and offers lunch to all children. By the beginning of 2006, 28 such primary schools had been introduced.

At the secondary education level the main changes are: 1) new curricula and new books and 2) new programs of counseling and professional orientation for students.

Inservice Training for All Levels

Inservice teacher training, provided by the Ministry of Education, offers many courses, seminars, and programs. There are short courses for newly appointed teachers, and short and long courses for teachers related to information and computer technology (ICT), distance learning, and environmental and intercultural education.

All the above new policies have been introduced and the majority of them are in the process of implementation. The fact that the country's education system is highly centralized helps with introducing these initiatives since the Ministry of Education is responsible for all state schools, including organization and administration, appointment of teachers, and finance. Questions arise whether the implementation of changes will succeed at the level of higher education where the Ministry of Education controls only the admission of university students.

Whether change is implemented in response to the recognized needs of students or whether change is brought about by new government policies in reaction to national, regional, and global issues is less important than the impact on students. Greece is responding quickly and with fervor to answer the cries for reform from both of those directions. The impact on students must continue to be monitored and further changes must be made if evaluation shows that all of the stated goals are not being fully met. Greece, like all European nations, will continue to change because of shifting populations and sociocultural and economic fluctuations in both the European Union and the world at large.

It remains to be seen if the present initiatives will meet the long-term needs of the Greek education system. As with any country's efforts, such policies are only effective if they are practiced on a daily basis in the schools. We know this is not always the case (Chatzifotiou, 2005; Kallery & Psillos, 1999). Teachers who have been educated in the best possible methods for creating harmony within the classroom, developing children's tolerance and social skills, and utilizing teaching approaches that enhance thinking skills and learning must effectively implement that knowledge in their classrooms. Greece, like every other nation, hopes that classroom teachers teach in a way that reflects the goals set and the positive initiatives taken by the Ministry of Education and by Greek society at large. Education is critical to the Greece of today and for the Greece of tomorrow.


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Chatzifotiou, A. (2005). National policy, local awareness: Implementing environmental education in the primary schools of northern Greece. Environmental Education Research, 11(5), 503-523.

Delithanasi, M. (2005). The identity of immigrant students. In Kathemerini, Athens: 29-12-2005 Available: http:// G:/

Dimakos, I. C., & Tasiopoulou, K. (2003). Attitudes to-wards migrants: What do Greek students think about their immigrant classmates? Intercultural Education, 14(3), 307-316.

Dretaki, M. (2001). The number of immigrant and repatriate children are more than 5% of the school population. Contemporary Education, 19, 38-43.

Education Council. (2001). The concrete future objectives of education and training systems/Report from the Education Council to the European Council, Brussels, 31-1-2001, COM(2001) 59final. Available: comm./education/doc/official/keydoc/com20001/ com2001-059el.pdf

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IPODE. (2005). Information network on the Institute for the Greek Diaspora Education and Intercultural Studies. Available:

Kallery, M., & Psillos, D. (1999, September). Science in kindergarten: The classroom reality of teachers' curriculum implementation activities. Paper PS6-B presented at the Second Conference of European Science Education Research Association. Kiel, Germany.

Katsikas, C. (2005). From immigrant parents come 9% of the school population. In TA NEA (The News) Athens: 9-10 April 2005.

Lakasas, A. (2003). The percentage of immigrant school population in Greece. In Kathemerini, Athens:27-7-2003.

Law 1865/1989. About the establishment of repatriate schools. Governmental Paper of Greece. FEK 210, Volume A, 28-9-1989.

Law 1894/1990. The loyal establishment of repatriates. Governmental Paper of Greece. FEK 110, Volume A, 27-8-1990

Law 2413/1996. Intercultural education. Governmental Paper of Greece. FEK 124, Volume A, 17-6-1996, Vol. I, articles 34,35,36,37.

Law 2790/2000. Resettlement of repatriates from former Soviet Union and others. Governmental Paper of Greece. FEK 24, Volume A, 16-2-2000.

Panagiotis, G., Konstantinou, E., & Hatzichristou, C. (2003). Dimensions of immigrant students' adaptation in the Greek schools: Self-concept and coping strategies. Intercultural Education, 14(4), 423-434.

Pelagidis, S. (2003). Greece of civilizations. Thessaloniki: Kyriakidis Brothers.

Scourtou, E., Vratsalis, K., & Govaris, C. (2004). Immigration in Greece and education: Evaluation of the present situation; Challenges and perspectives of improvement (Research Program No. 5: An evaluation of the intracultural education in Greece). Athens: Institute of Immigration Policy (IMEPO). September 2004.

Vergeti, M. (2003). Repatriation and social exclusion. Thessaloniki: Eds Kyriakidis Brothers. Inc. Chapter V.

Vidali L. E., & Adams, L.D. (2006). Understanding immigrant children's adjustment to school environment in Greece. In L. D. Adams & A. Kirova (Eds.), Global migration and education: Schools, children and families. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Vidali, L. E., & Giangounidis, P. (2003). Multicultural perspectives in early childhood education: A study on early childhood teachers' views and their problems in Greece. In N. Terzis (Eds.), Intercultural education in the Balkan countries (pp. 121-134). Thessaloniki: Kyriakidis Brothers.

Zambeta, E. (2002). Modernisation of educational governance in Greece: From state control to state steering. European Educational Research Journal, I(4), 637-655.

Eva L. Vidali is Professor, Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education, Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece. Leah D. Adams is Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.
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Author:Adams, Leah D.
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Aug 15, 2006
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