Schooling in Greece

In Sept the EU provided 115 million Euros to Greece to support getting refugee children into schools It has been a complex process planning for the thousands of refugee children, and the Greek government has had to employ about 800 new teachers in order to make classes available. This week the planning and preparation has started coming to fruition, with some of the children commencing at schools. School plans are being rolled out in a phased way across regions and in our region only 1 of the 8 camps has had children going to school. The picture emerging at the end of the first week is a patchy one. In some areas it has gone extremely well and the Greeks have rallied around to make the refugee children feel welcome in their schools. In other areas things have not gone as well. We understand that things will continue in a 'pilot mode' for a while, especially in our region; as local people are saying that the process to appoint all of the 800 teachers is still not yet complete. We don't know whether this is accurate or inaccurate, as rumours constantly swirl back and forth. What we do know is that no one on the ground seems to know when the rest of the children in our region will start going to school.

We are particularly concerned about one set of rumours which suggest that all the children in the other camps will eventually go to school, but that the Yazidi children will not be able to go to school. The other camps are under Greek government authority, which means that the Greek government can decide on educational arrangement for the children. The Yazidi camp is not under direct Greek authority control and so it needs a different mechanism to formally request the Greek government to include the children in its education plan. No one locally on the ground can work out whether the appropriate mechanism has been triggered, or not. A group of visiting Greek lawyers this week told us that they have seen the lists of children in the region, and none of the lists include the Yazidi children. So we are increasingly fearful that the Yazidi children have been missed out of the Education plan. But then maybe there is a different list of children which the lawyers have not seen? No one knows and the torrential flow of rumour and counter rumour makes it impossible to reach any firm conclusions about matters. All we know is that we have refugee children constantly asking us if and when they can go to school and we just dont have any answers for them.

Even though the children in Greece are starting to go to school, some groups which have been providing education in the camps are keen to stay in place providing services for the refugee children. They have a range of reasons and motivations, some of which appear commendable and some of which appear less so. Our own view is that it is not a good use of donation income to provide a service to a group, which has the service being provided by the state. UN data shows that in 2015 there were 65 million people displaced around the world, of whom half were school age children. Of those children, three quarters of all secondary age children cannot get access to education. If there are literally millions of children unable to access any education at all, is it really appropriate to be continuing to collect donations in order to continue building temporary schools in Greek refugee camps and providing a double helping of education to the refugee children in Greece camps where such provision is already provided ?

Our intention in Greece has always been to work with the children out of education, until the Greek Ministry of Education takes over. At that point we will disengage from the young children and intensify our focus with the children aged 15+. Fifteen marks the end of compulsory education in Greece and so refugee children at that age are not a formal part of the Greek Ministry of Education plan. This is an extremely needy group of children. They want, and need, qualifications. But it is extremely difficult for them to access qualifications from a state where the school leaving qualification is a baccalaureate style outcome. Baccalaureate style qualifications require a student to pass multiple subjects in order to get the school leaving certificate. With gaps and missed learning, this is extremely problematic for refugee children. The most accessible qualifications for refugee children are single subject accreditation, but delivering such qualifications in an appropriate way is complicated and requires professional teachers. It isn't currently happening in Greece, but we are hoping to be able to model how it can be done.

We are looking at doing this, where possible, outside of refugee camps. Over the last few weeks out of lesson hours we have visited and seen a variety of educational provision across Greek refugee camps. It confirms us in our view that wherever possible education should be taken out of refugee camps. When it is on offer in the camps, girls in particular are at risk of being seriously disadvantaged. On one occasion a lesson for a group of 14 year olds was disrupted when a brother brought a 1 year old to one of the girls. “Me mama now, I go” said the girl, as she had to abandon the lesson to go and look after the baby. That would not happen if the girl was going out of the camp to a school.

In another instance a 15 year old girl came to a lesson and within 10 minutes was called away back to her house. She reemerged a few minutes later with a bucket. She positioned her bucket close enough to be able to listen to the lesson as she scrubbed clothes. After a short time she was slapped and told in no uncertain terms to focus on the cleaning. With tears in her eyes she moved her bucket out of hearing. That would not happen if the girls were going out of the camp to a school.

We see many well meaning individuals and groups, working extremely hard in the refugee camps on behalf of refugee children. The kindness and commitment is absolutely unquestionable! But less clear sometimes is the wisdom of what is being pursued. If groups are not careful they can become inadvertently complicit in actually undermining the education of girls. Keeping (older) girls in the camp for education makes it far too easy for the rhythms of camp life to push and pull them out of their education. This is why at Edlumino we have a very clear policy of complete disengagement from camp education, as soon as there is a viable alternative outside of the camps.

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