Rebooting Greece: the educational system

I visited Greece this late summer and I was reminded of the mess in the Greek educational system. I don’t mean to say it is all bad and I don’t mean the fact that school children don’t have books to start the school year. I mean the perversity of the school system as a whole.

In Greece, children take exams to earn the right to attend university level education. Competition is high although quite paradoxically so is unemployment of University graduates. Competition is so high in fact that parents (without any economic sense) will pay loads of money to send their kids to private teaching/tutoring which runs parallel to school. There exists a shadow educational system. The numbers I heard recently which parents are willing to pay for a school season (in the midst of a terrible recession!) for private turoring ranged from 4,000 to 7,000 euros.

As a result for some time it became more lucrative to be a freelance tutor than to have a permanent school teacher job. This lead many teachers with permanent state jobs to also teach privately (informal economy). Some times teachers will tutor privately (for money) the very same students they get paid a state salary to teach at school, a fundamental conflict of interest. The quality of teaching in state schools dropped and that made shadow teaching all the more necessary: both students and their school teachers exert ever less effort at school knowing the real deal is the private coaching. The whole system worked for a while as parents were willing to pay large sums and the ever increasing number of teachers could make ends meet as private tutors in the face of a natural unavailability of state jobs.

This system is wasteful in at least two ways:

  •  for every unit of “knowledge” communicated to a student there are two units of teaching paid for by society as a whole: One to the school teacher (via taxes and public money) and one to the freelance tutor (by the parents).
  • Society wastes well trained knowledgeable people (the private tutors) doing redundant teaching instead of producing GDP.

Despite all of that the entry exams have been showing a worsening pupil performance. Doing away with this shadow school system means unemployment for a lot of people and this is why politicians don’t want to touch it. Parents feel their kids are disadvantaged if they do not get private coaching and are hence willing to go out of their way to pay for and sustain a system which is perverse and makes little economic sense. The people involved are wasted high quality human capital; it is just that they have nowhere to go. Did anyone say we are missing inspired politicians?

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