Greek schoolteachers denounce the “sacrifice of a generation”

Greek schoolteachers denounce the “sacrifice of a generation”
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Human rightsGreeceEducationStrikes

Thousands of people are taking part in rallies across Greece today, amidst a nationwide 24-hour strike to protest against further budget cuts demanded by the country’s international lenders.

While general strikes had become a common feature of Greece’s struggle with austerity during the heyday of the financial crisis, it’s been seven months since the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), representing private employees, has called for such action, together with its public sector counterpart ADEDY.

In an interview with the news agency Reuters, Nikos Kioutsoukis, General Secretary of GSEE, said: “We are sending a message to the government, the EU (European Union) and the IMF (International Monetary Fund): Greek people cannot take it anymore.”

The strike coincides with a parliamentary examination of the 2015 budget draft, submitted by the government in October, which predicts an almost balanced budget next year, in line with the targets set by the Troika (IMF, EU and ECB – European Central Bank) in their Memorandum of Understanding with the Greek government in exchange for the financial bail-out.

Amongst those walking out will be Greece’s public school teachers who are denouncing budget cuts in the education sector and the consequences for them and their students.

“The ultimate goal of the Troika and of the Greek government is to privatise education. We are very angry,” says Themis Kotsifakis, president of the secondary schoolteachers union OLME.

According to their figures, public spending on education has been reduced by 32 per cent since 2009 and is now equivalent to only 2.79 per cent of GDP – half the European average.

As a result, more than 1,200 schools have closed in the last three years. There are 28,500 less secondary school teachers than in 2010 and their salaries have been reduced by up to 45 per cent.


“Students know their future prospects are bleak”

Stavros Bofilatos, the 58-year old headmaster of an Athens public lyceum (the last three years of secondary education) in the working-class neighbourhood of Metaxourgeio, witnesses the impact of budget cuts daily.

In order to adapt to the financial constraints, the 90 students attending his school had to be grouped into bigger classes.

The teachers have claimed that this makes their job harder and more tiring.

“They work more for less,” Bofilatos says. “But we all try our best to keep the school going.”

The schoolmaster has also noticed a rise in the number of students dropping out.

“It’s getting harder and harder to convince the children that their access to education is not only a right but also a key to a better future. They know the situation. And they know their future prospects are bleak.”

Parents have also felt the harsh winds of austerity.

As the school’s neighbourhood was hit by the crisis, many of the students’ mothers who work in housekeeping had to resort working several shifts, thus reducing their personal involvement in the school’s activities.

“This budget cuts affect the whole society. The Troïka and the state are soul sisters collaborating, and the victims are the Greek students. The Ministry of Education even accuses us if the kids don’t perform well in school,” says Bofilatos.

Condemnations of these cuts have also come from abroad. Education International has expressed concern about a new law on education, voted without proper social dialogue, which establishes a stricter system of examination “forcing students to seek private tuition outside school and leading to school dropouts.”

Kotsifakis concludes: “These students of the ‘Memorandum generation’ will never be able to replace what has been taken from them: knowledge.”