The secret powers of Greek ELT

Though we are getting closer to the second decade of the 21st century, talking or even doing politics in Greece is still shaded by the last half of the 20th century, in terms of ethos, expectations and attitudes. To be more specific, although a government should be a team of “nation’s employees” serving the public will, what actually happens in every country and even more so in Greece, is that this team becomes a team of authority and the nation follows. Something is obviously wrong but it’s all a matter of perspective.

The “Free Economy” world has been and will always be under dispute. It is a political issue. However, this is the world we live in and we have to as such make the best of it. The “Free Economy” world is the world that encourages private initiative. ELT in Greece is a private industry. On top of that, ELT in Greece is a semi-formal, semi-recognised, semi-purposeful private industry. All these “semis” are to blame for the status of Greek ELT nowadays. However, all these “semis” constitute some great opportunities for Greek ELT and more generally for education in Greece.

The Language Centre field is monitored by a number of authorities for different reasons. The permit for operation is provided by the Secondary Education authorities, but they don’t have a say in the nature and level of the educational service provided by language centres. Commerce authorities control levels of tuition fees every now and then, but only in terms of national competition and inflation indexes. Labour and employment authorities control minimum wages, but no collective contract has ever been formed, apart from in very few and specific cases. To cut a long story short, the Language Centre field has been a strategically adopted child in a family that can’t help discriminating between natural and adopted children, providing the latter with the minimum support and guidance.

Lack of support for private initiative is common in countries that have failed to accept a political attitude towards capital over the years. Greece is externally part of the Western globalised economy, but at the same time struggles to maintain an internal undetermined socialistic face. In such cases, if and when a private field succeeds in becoming self-sufficient, strategically or by mistake (as in the case of ELT), then the power of it can change trends and influence massive, nation-wide operations. The fact that private ELT in Greece has remained uncontrolled by the State over the past 50 years has led to the dire state of the field, but at the same time has given the field a pioneering position on issues that concern educational services, methodological trends and professional development.

To be more specific, private ELT in Greece has managed to be the only private field in Europe to have penetrated the population on a mass basis, before any governmental initiative for privatization was taken. It’s highly unlikely to find anybody nowadays who doesn’t send their children to a “frontisterio” to learn English.

ELT publishing flourished in Greece, set trends and developed methodological approaches that contributed to more profitable materials worldwide. Furthermore, the State welcomed private ELT publishing, allowing the use of materials in state schools, that are originally formed to service the independent/alternative curriculum of the “frontisterio system”.

The majority of teachers that join the State sector through ASEP (and the “epeterida” in the not so far past), developed their professional skills within the “frontisterio system” either as employed teachers or even as school owners themselves.

Quality assessment criteria and schemes were introduced for the first time by a private company and a school association (H-CQLE and QLS) that are solely related to the private ELT sector, awakening Greek ELT to issues of quality, viability and customer care. On 7th July 2007 a renowned UK newspaper published a special supplement dedicated to education in Greece (obviously funded by the Greek Ministry of Education), announcing the implementation of Quality criteria and assessment schemes, when before 2002 nobody would have expected anything like that from a State department. Not to mention of course that only recently local associations of school owners have started to re-activate quality and safety criteria and requirements (i.e. fire safety systems, insurance, etc.) and use the term “Quality” at every possible opportunity, generating comments from professionals that invested in quality and safety assurances long before “Quality” became the popular key-word.

Greek ELT was born and grew up as an orphan. It had its good times and also struggled over the years. As in the jungle, in ELT some survived, some didn’t, some will survive and some others won’t. The one thing that stuns me is how powerful Greek private ELT is. Greek private ELT has produced thousands of English teachers, profound training of immense quality, educational materials that whole generations remember, methodology of rare complexity. Greek ELT school owners and teachers first introduced solutions to learning difficulties, parental training on dyslexia and other syndromes, and opened a whole market to speech therapists, psychologists and pedagogic specialists of the private sector.

In 2007 Greek State ELT can take pride in experienced teachers, inspired advisors, internationally acceptable text material, the use of technology in ELT, a connection to the CEFR, a profound co-operation with university departments, integrated skills, task based and cross-curricular approaches, and, why not, a pretty decent attempt at a state language certificate. Greek State ELT is getting there. Greek private ELT, unbeknowingly, has done its job.

Once upon a time, the spontaneous birth of this private sector, led to the formation of a nation-wide active market. Within the field of education, it created specific needs for the whole market and thus a specific mentality. This educational product, massively accepted and bought, oriented and forced the State sector towards its current trends. All of this happened due to lack of state support, lack of state understanding, lack of state controls and prevalence of the rules of supply and demand. An active private ELT field in Greece is powerful enough to shape a healthy educational environment for the whole country, and when it becomes aware of its own magnitude, it will do that even more effectively and faster than it has done so far.
Whose interest is it in to change the status quo? Who would want to rock the boat, just as the next exciting phase of development is about to begin? Surely no team of “nation’s employees” should have the mandate to do so?


Copyright© 2007  Yannis Stergis
Republication or use of part or all text without written permission from Yannis Stergis is strictly prohibited.