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Posted by Maria on March 08, 2002 at 20:52:39:

In Reply to: HELLENISM UNDER SIEGE? posted by Achilles Milonas on March 08, 2002 at 20:41:13:

Multiculturalism a reality in Greek state schools

PUBLIC school classrooms around the country are a reflection of a newly emerging multicultural reality in Greek society. Faced with a steadily rising enrolment of migrant children, these schools are now beginning to look toward a different approach to education.

Recent statistics show that there are an estimated total of 50,000 migrant children attending primary and middle schools around the country. More than 20,000 of these are in Attica, making up 10 percent of the total number of enrolments. The education ministry predicts an annual increase of about 5,000 minority children enrolling in public schools each year.

A survey conducted by the National Statistics Centre (EKE) during the academic year 1997-1998 found that only half of all migrant children in primary school continue to middle school and only a fraction of them go on to secondary school. A large number of migrant youths are forced to drop out of school in search of work in order to support their working class families.

Migrant children make up one third of the student population at Athens' First Primary School in the centrally located district of Pangrati. They number 75 this year - five more than during the academic year 1999-2000. The school's principal, Gerasimos Sarkas, told the Athens News that he expects the number of foreign students to grow in numbers.

"Many of the older [foreign] students have trouble keeping up with their studies," he said. "These children speak a different language at home with their parents and their parents can not help with homework. Most of the migrant families live in economic hardship and this makes it difficult for the children to concentrate on their studies. The younger children, especially those who arrive in grade one, are able to do just as well, or even better, than their Greek peers."

As in most public schools around the country, the First Primary School of Athens does not offer a special tutoring or Greek-language lesson after school for migrant students. According to Sarkas, this was offered last year, but it was cancelled this year due to insufficient funding from the ministry. "The teachers will not stay after school to help these students for only 1,500 drachmas an hour," he said. "This is a problem in most schools in the area."

The education ministry has recently recognised the need to develop and implement an education programme that will meet the needs of foreign children and their Greek peers in a multicultural classroom. The ministry assigned the creation of such a programme to the Athens University's Centre for Intercultural Education. This 24 billion drachma initiative is jointly funded by the education ministry and the European Union's second community support framework.

This is a pilot intervention programme in schools around Athens, Thessaloniki, Ioannina and Crete. The centre's goal is to develop curriculum and support materials for teaching Greek as a second language. It's long-term objective is for an intercultural approach to education to be adopted on a national scale over the next five years.

Giving minority youths a head-start

But minority students, whose primary language is not Greek, can not wait until then. Various migrant community groups and non-government organisations have undertaken the initiative to provide migrant children with a head-start in schools.

The Athens-based Social Work Foundation (SWF) has assisted more than 200 migrant and refugee youth improve their performance in school. SWF, which is largely funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has two education centres - in the southern Athens suburb of Neos Kosmos and in the western Athens suburb of Aegaleo. Teachers at these two centres assist children with their homework and offer Greek-language lessons to children who recently arrived to Greece in the middle of the academic year. They also offer summer classes to prepare the children for the next year.

The African Children's Day Care Centre in the Athens district of Kato Patissia is another helping hand. Some 50 children of many different nationalities are taught Greek and English. The president of the African Parents' Association of Greece and the director of the day care centre, Seepo BS Koilor, said the centre resembles the United Nations.

"The centre is not a ghetto," he stressed. "We have Greek students as well. I believe this centre is very important because we try to help these children to do their best in school."

Koilor added that a computer centre for youth between the age of 7-12 was recently opened. There are currently six children - Albanians and Africans - taking computer lessons. More than a dozen of the computers were donated by the British Embassy School, St Catherine's, and another three by individuals. The day care centre has been greatly supported by various English-language private schools since it opened in 1998. These schools have donated many books and other schoool-related materials, as well as a school bus.

In 1994, KASAPI, the Unity of Filipino migrant workers in Greece, opened the Munting Nayon (Little Village) school for Filipino migrant children from kindergarten to grade three. The school is located near Amerikis Square. The teachers at Munting Nayon follow the same curriculum in the Philippines. The children are also taught the Greek language.

"This school plays a very important role in the community," the president of KASAPI, Joe Valencia, told the Athens News, "because many of these children will go back to the Philippines. It would have been different if their parents had a permanent residence in Greece, but the laws that are governing our stay in Greece make us very temporary. The nature of our stay in Greece affects the children very much because there is an uncertainty that you will not be able to renew your Green Card and there is always a chance that you will be sent home."

He adds that for the 15 Filipino youngsters in grade one, and the 14 others in grade 2 and eight more in grade 3, Greece is the only country they know as home. Many of the children who started their schooling at Munting Nayon have made an easy transition to public school system.


Article by: By Kathy Tzilivakis

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