It is essential to develop synergies between public and private education. Private schools tend to adopt innovative new programs which could inspire the legislator as well as the staff of public schools for related improvements
As you know, in Greece, during the last year we have gone through a very unpleasant experience in the field of education. As of January 2015 we have a new government that has adopted a number of hostile positions against private education.
I would like to focus on the particular problems which private schools face due to this situation.
First, let me bring to your attention a flamboyant statement of our former Minister of Education, who is also a professor at the National and Technical University of Athens. He has expressed the belief that excellence in schools and universities constitutes a kind of disease, a "retsinia". According to his opinion, this negative characteristic of excellence leads to the unavoidable rejection of its components, such as the principle of meritocracy, as well as to the means of achieving it, such as the continuing evaluation in all levels of our educational system.
The same attitude has been adopted by our government since January 2015, despite the legislative framework which protects private education in Greece. As is provided by the Greek Constitution, in particular by article 16, education constitutes a public good and is constitutionally protected. The Greek Constitution guarantees in particular free access to all levels of education as well as the right of parents to choose any type of school they desire for the studies of their children. Parents have, among others, the right to choose public schools or private schools. So, in this context, it is my opinion that we should conceive the constitutional protection of the education as a whole, without any subdivisions or differentiations such as public or private education. Consequently, the state undertakes the obligation to support all types of education, including private schools, which have a significant role in our educational system.
The importance of private schools in Greece can be easily demonstrated by some statistics, which I would like to present you. Concerning preschool education, more than 8% of the nursery schools are private, to which 7% of the related children population has been enrolled. Concerning primary education, almost 7,5% of the schools are private, to which the same percentage of the related student population has been enrolled. Concerning lower secondary education, what in Greece we call "gymnasio" or what French call "college", 5,5% of the schools are private, to which the same percentage of the related student population has been enrolled. Finally, concerning high schools, more than 7% of the schools are private, to which almost 6% of the related student population has been enrolled. These brief statistics show the importance of private schools to the Greek educational system. They also strongly support the opinion that the state should actively assist private schools on their development, taking into consideration that they have also been hit hard by the financial crisis.
Unfortunately, this government shows hostility not only to private schools but in general to the principle of meritocracy.
I would like to give you an example regarding the former. A few months ago, the government had the idea to impose VAT of 23% on all private education. Fortunately, this plan failed mainly due to the reaction of the European Commission, which rejected it. If the new tax had been imposed, it would have created many difficult problems for private education. It has to be underlined that the majority of students of private schools are members of an average Greek family. Against this fact, the government widely supported the idea that only rich people have the possibility to access private schools, in an effort to justify the new tax. However, it is well known from the statistics that this conviction does not correspond to reality.
Moreover, during the last fifteen months, the government has taken numerous legislative and administrative measures which limit in a very drastic way the autonomy of private schools. The Ministry of Education constantly tries to impose a very strict framework on all types of programs and activities which are provided by private schools. In the same direction, the new Minister of Education recently decided to forbid the self-evaluation of private schools. He also dictated that all forms of private schools' evaluation should conform to the national system of evaluation, provided for public schools and conducted by public servants. This actually leads to the non-evaluation of private schools since the national system of evaluation still remains on paper.
Today, you can read in the front pages of the newspapers the latest related announcement of the Minister of Education. In accordance with it, he intends to impose a state control by public servants to all private schools, concerning the internal exams of their students. It is easily understood that this measure will create substantial problems for the functioning of private schools.
All these measures are in the wrong direction. Our beliefs are completely different to those of our government.
We strongly support the idea of private schools' autonomy on all levels. This autonomy includes, among others, the management of the teaching staff, e.g. hiring, evaluating etc., but in accordance with a number of pre-defined criteria, deriving from the principle of meritocracy.
We also are in favor of all types of evaluation, both external and internal, based on objective criteria.
Concerning the obligation of private schools not to adapt the state's curriculum, which is intended to be imposed, we believe that this measure will severely damage their autonomy. Therefore, we strongly demand the freedom of private schools to adapt the curriculum to their particular needs, in accordance with best practices, not to be hampered.
We also feel that it would be a good idea to support private schools in a financial manner. It is well known that parents who choose private schools for their children to be enrolled are also tax payers. The tax burden which has been imposed on them corresponds, among others, to the provision of public education services. Since they do not make use of these services for their children, it seems reasonable that voucher be provided to them by the state which would ease the burden of the tuition fees payed by them for private education. This voucher would also facilitate significantly the choice of private education.
We also believe that it is essential to develop synergies between public and private education, which could benefit particularly public schools. Private schools tend to adopt innovative new programs which could inspire the legislator as well as the staff of public schools for related improvements.
I would like to finish with a few remarks regarding the latest bill about private education, which our government appears ready to present to the Greek Parliament in the following weeks. As it has been already published, this bill will substantially hinder the functioning of private schools in such a high degree that will lead to their de facto abolition. This is unacceptable. It is our duty to fight this bill with all our might and this is exactly what we intend to do. Private schools in Greece are an indispensable component of our educational system and have to be protected from those who wish for their extinction.
*MP with New Democracy, Professor of Public law at the Law School of the University of Athens