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Rowan Parkes

Schools today in Kythira

Being a foreign resident here who has chosen to educate her child within the community, people often ask me about the schools on the island so I hope this article may answer some of the questions which come up regularly.

For such a small permanent population we have a large number of schools and the education of our children is considered to be of the utmost importance. The current lessons are often a topic of conversation between the adults, which can even develop into heated debate. There are six Junior Schools, which are situated in Chora, Potamos, Agia Pelageia, Kastrisianika, Karvounades and Livadi. The advantage of having so many Junior Schools is that the community spirit is cultivated from the beginning and the children do not have to travel very far to go to school. The classes are usually small which means individual attention for the children. The disadvantages are that teachers have to teach the whole curriculum often to more than one class at the same time so that the children listen to more than one lesson during the same class period. There is pressure to reduce the number of these schools to one or two, thereby standardising further the lessons and allowing them to be taught individually to separate classes.

Prior to Junior School, children can attend Kindergarten for one or two years either in Potamos or in Chora, this is a parental choice. They are well equipped and help the younger children to get used to the classroom situation. They are a great help to busy mothers as the children are extremely well fed and it is the only time in the children’s school life that meals are included in the school day.

The children start their compulsory education at Junior School at six years old. They spend six years in Junior School, followed by a further three years at High School in Chora after which, providing they have achieved sufficiently high grades, they can choose to continue on for another three years at the ‘Lycee’. This is housed in the same building as the High School, looking out at the Castle and Kapsali Bay. From the ‘Lycee’ those students with good grades may choose to pursue further studies at Universities and Colleges elsewhere in Greece or abroad.

The school hours here are shorter than elsewhere in Europe. The school day starts at 8.30 am and finishes at 1.30 or 2.00pm but the academic content is concentrated. The children are expected to work very hard and be self-motivated studying at home what they have learnt in school, thus they are well prepared for university life. The Christmas and Easter holidays are the same length as elsewhere in Europe but the children benefit from three to four months’ holiday in the summer when it is really too hot for serious study. During this time they grow up a lot; many children have their first summer jobs and are introduced to the world of work and economics. The lucky few travel and others enjoy their freedom here on the island to play, swim and go fishing.

There is throughout Greece a National Curriculum, which is rigidly adhered to. This enables people to move about freely which, in a country where a large part of the population migrates from the cities to the islands for work in Summer, allows the children to change schools easily on a regular basis. The curriculum in Junior School in Years 1 and 2 is made up of Modern Greek, Maths, and a subject called “Us and the World” which seems to be an introduction to Geography, History and Local Politics. At this young age my daughter knew exactly the procedure to follow when our street lamp stopped working! From the very beginning, in this country, which has been occupied for a large part of its history, the value of freedom is stressed. Whereas, in England, our student demonstrations of the 60s are not often a suitable topic for conversation, here, student rebels have become heroes whose actions are annually celebrated in the schools. During Years 3 and 4 at Junior School the curriculum expands to consist of Modern Greek Language and Literature, Maths, History, Geography, Religion and English and in Years 5 and 6 Physics and Politics are added. In the last few years the children have benefited from a full programme of Gymnastics and Greek Dancing thanks to the efforts of our enthusiastic Gymnastics teacher, Vassilis, who, like the visiting English teacher has to teach in all six Junior Schools. The standard of the young peoples’ Greek Dancing is now extremely high and, if you are lucky, you will be able to see this during the summer at some of the dances.

Moving on to High School, the subjects studied are: Religion, Modern Greek Language and Literature, Ancient Greek Language and Literature, Maths, Geography, History, Biology, Science, French, English, Computer Studies, Gymnastics, Art and Music (should a teacher become available). All these subjects are compulsory.

At Lycee, in the second and third years, the students are streamed into three channels depending on their strengths and preferences. Thus the curriculum allows the children to make choices and begin to specialise when they are fifteen years old. It is, therefore, wider and more complicated:-
Year 1 Lycee
Compulsory Subjects: Religion, Ancient Greek Language and Literature, Modern Greek Language and Literature, History, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, English, Principles of Economics, Technology, Gymnastics, Careers Education.
Optional Subjects: French, European Civilisation, Computer Studies, Theatre Studies/Music/Art, Psychology.
Year 2 Lycee
All the students must study the following subjects:- Religion, English, Gymnastics, Ancient Greek Language and Literature, Modern Greek Language and Literature, History, Mathematics (inc. Algebra and Geometry), Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Introduction to Law and Political Institutions.
In addition there are three streams:
Stream 1 – Theoretical. These students may study in the Arts Faculties, e.g. Law, Languages and Literature, Sociology, etc.
Compulsory Subjects: Ancient Greek Texts, Principles of Philosophy, Latin.
Optional Subjects: Social and Political Organisation in Ancient Greece, Principles of Environmental Science, Modern European Literature, French, Astronomy and Space, Line Drawing, Art, Social Science, Analysis of Historical Topics, Computer Studies.
Stream 2 – Natural Sciences. These students may study Medicine, Architecture, Mathematics, etc.
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Communications Technology.
Optional Subjects: Principles of Environmental Science, Modern European Literature, French, Astronomy and Space, Use of Natural Resources, Computer Studies, Chemistry, Technical Drawing.
Year 3 Lycee
All students study the following subjects:- Religion, English, Gymnastics, Modern Greek Language and Literature, History, Mathematics and Statistics, Physics, Biology, History of Science and Technology.
Stream 1 – Theoretical.
Compulsory Subjects: Ancient Greek, Modern Greek Literature, Latin, History.
Optional Subjects: French, Principles of Economic Theory, Sociology, Statistics, Logic – Theory and Practice, Computer Studies, History of Art.
Stream 2 – Natural Sciences.
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology.
Optional Subjects: Philosophical Problems, French, Principles of Economics, Modern Greek Literature, Statistics, Logic – Theory and Practice, Computer Studies, History of Art.
Stream 3A – Technology 1.
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Bio-chemistry, Electronics.
Optional Subjects: Technology and Development, French, Agricultural Science, Industrial Production, Principles of Economic Theory, Statistics, Principles of Accountancy, Technical Drawing, Architectural Drawing, Computer Studies, History of Art.
Stream 3B – Technology 2.
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Computer Programming, Business Studies.
Optional Subjects: Computer Technology, French, Communications, Calculus, Principles of Economic Theory, Statistics, Principles of Accountancy, Technical Drawing, Architectural Drawing, Computer Studies, History of Art.

We do have a problem sometimes in getting teachers to come to the island but it does mean that those who come are often extremely dedicated, not only to teaching their own subjects but also to encouraging the children generally to widen their horizons. It is good for the children in this small community to see new faces from the outside world even if at the expense of continuity. The subjects that can suffer in this respect are usually the arts i.e. music, art and foreign languages. There is a very small hard core of permanent, more experienced teachers very dedicated to the children of the island. They are joined every year by new, younger teachers who are obliged by the education system to travel around during the first six to ten years of their careers to gain experience in both rural and urban areas of Greece. Usually they are here for a year and then have to move on; sometimes they return for a second year but not usually concurrently. The difficulties of this nomadic lifestyle coupled with the low pay produce teachers who really have to be dedicated to pursue their careers.

Art Education in Kythira.

Art has only recently been added to the High School Curriculum, hopefully Music and Theatre Studies may follow in the not too distant future.

It is one of the subjects in which there is a shortage of specialist teachers and this has allowed me to contribute a little to this fairly new programme which has been most enjoyable. The children here do not have the general experience of drawing, painting and making from an early age which is the privilege of most European children. With no set curriculum as in other subjects, it will be necessary to develop a structured programme enabling basic exercises in perception and use of materials to be taught together with giving the children the opportunity to express themselves and produce both observational and conceptual studies

Many people in Kythira wonder why we think it is important to add non-academic subjects to the curriculum when there is already so much that the children are obliged to study. I will here re-iterate a few of the principle reasons I have offered to the sceptics:
1 At the end of the school year we were able to mount an exhibition of art work which demonstrated that a number of children have considerable artistic talent. It is very important that they are given an opportunity to discover and develop their natural talents. Nowadays young people can pursue creative careers, in Greece and elsewhere, which are both satisfying and lucrative. Greece has a great history of art, music and theatre from ancient times, which did not continue during all the years of occupation. Modern Greece could again become a force in the international art world and indeed there are today many prominent contemporary artists of Greek origin working in all media. And so it is important that our children realise their own talent and the value of their creative ability and activity. A child who has no interest in academic subjects may find a means of expression in art, music and theatre, not only possibly discovering hidden talents but also finding a new language and purpose to take a new interest in the basic academic subjects.
2 I believe it is a basic need of mankind to create with his hands and when deprived of this facility he becomes depressed. Whenever the everyday problems of life get us down we can often shake them off through manual activity even if it is just cleaning the house or building a wall. Having the basic tools to create something enables us to rise above the pressures of our everyday problems.
3 The technological age in which we live promises us more leisure time. With this increased leisure time we can see that psychological problems are also increasing. It is necessary to help the children to use their free time constructively in order to improve the quality of their lives. Television and computers have had a negative effect on the quality of life, not only isolating us from social activity but also overdosing us on the ideas of others and taking up valuable time which could be spent developing our own ideas. While there is, of course, a place for this new technology, it is important to teach our children to use it as their forefathers used their hand tools and not to allow it to use them and take over their imagination and their lives. Individual creative activity provides the opportunity to make use of our valuable leisure time to explore and cultivate our own ideas.
4 Children have a secret world of joys, fears and sorrows, which they often are unable to share with their families and friends. A healthy child needs to express his conflicting emotions. Artistic activity offers him the opportunity to do just that.

There are practical problems, which we face in Kythira hindering the pursuit of an art education programme. Firstly, the absence of specialist teachers. Secondly the absence of good quality art materials. It is not possible to buy artist quality paints, brushes, pencils and card not to mention the wide range of craft materials available in other countries. Thirdly, there is no studio space in the school building dedicated to art which has, therefore, to take place in the classroom. This is restricting and does not facilitate more ambitious projects than drawing and painting.

The final school art exhibition was received enthusiastically by all who were able to visit it and as a result will be mounted in Potamos for a week after the examinations and, at the request of the Mayor’s Office, again in September at the beginning of the new school year. It is to be hoped that the concerted effort of the High School Teachers this year to address the lack of non- academic subjects both verbally to the community and also through their work with the pupils will be of benefit in the long term.

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