As I was in the centre a headline in the Eleutherotypia newspaper caught my eye, Pupils Golgothas. Actually, every year newspapers use exactly the same words to describe the annual Panhellenic university entrance exams. However, the article also mentioned the results of a survey which had been conducted on student attitudes to school. The most popular response was tiredness, followed by pressure, boredom and anxiety.
To fully understand what students in Greece go through on regular basis you have to look at a typical day for many of them. This involves waking up at 7am in order to be in school for just after 8am. After doing a full day at school many of them are expected to do extra lessons at cramming schools, known as frontisteria in Greek.
Here they are supposed to learn the material which the regular school program was unwilling or unable to teach them. If this was not enough students are often assigned huge amounts of homework by both their school and frontisterio.
The basic logic being that "good" teachers swamp their pupils with material. As a result, after finishing extra lessons at 9 or 10pm they are often studying till midnight for the next day.
As if this wasn't enough the teenagers are also expected to study for a foreign language qualification which many consider essential in today's job market. So, add another 6 - 10 hours of lessons and study to your week.
You'd expect that with so much teaching going on the amount that students learn would be much higher than in other countries? Unfortunately, no. In international surveys on student ability Greek pupils regularly score far below their "lazy" European peers (see pg 53).
What you have is the educational equivalent of gruel. A low quality product dished out in large quantities. Dull, boring and mostly ineffective which people are forced to consume in vast amounts as they have no alternative.
The picture above was taken a little while back in a high school here in Thessaloniki. I spent a weekend in this classroom wondering how on Earth people stand seven odd hours a day in such a place without going crazy. The material and intellectual poverty of the place was enough to depress even the most ardent advocate of education. Bare walls, broken furniture, total absence of any kind of teaching equipment other than a board marker were stark reminders of how little interest the present government has in providing quality learning.
The school, which was less than a decade old was little more than a warehouse to keep kids off the streets, a con trick to fob off parents with the illusion that their children are being educated.