Greece on the brink of ‘education tragedy’

40th Elementary School, Thessaloniki. [Tilemahos Efthimiadis/Flickr]

The economic crisis has dramatically impacted the already struggling Greek education system, according to a trade union report published last week (19 January). EURACTIV Greece reports.

The report by the General Confederation of Labour in the area of Education and Lifelong learning ( KANEP-GSEE), examined the state of the Greek primary and secondary education system in the 2002-2014 period.

“We are on the brink of an unprecedented education tragedy in recent decades,” the authors of the report warn, underlining that the issue is mainly “political”.

“The image of the Greek primary and secondary education, compared to the European mainstream, causes deep concerns for the future of younger generations and for the future of Greece itself.”

The alarming report warned that Athens was a champion in underfunding and inequalities in its education system, as well as a laggard in innovation and learning results at the EU level.


The report stressed that actual expenses did not reflect the amount of money earmarked in the annual budget of Greece.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, said that public expenditure on education accounted for 4.5% of GDP in 2013. However, it was just 3.2% of GDP, according to official statistics by the State General Accounting Office.

“A 1.3% difference is excessively high […] and it cannot be accepted,” the report reads.

The underfunding, in combination with the “ineffective study programmes”, resulted in low educational performance. Greek students are amongst the worst performers in basic subjects (mathematics, language, natural sciences).

NEETs on the rise

The report also found that during the crisis the number of NEETs (young people not in education, employment, or training) has “dangerously” risen.

According to Eurostat, the rate of Greek NEETs reached 29.5%  in 2014, the highest percentage in the EU, followed by Italy (27.4%). This is up from 17.5% in 2009, when the crisis hit the Greek economy.

“We need to note out that although Greece does not have particularly high rates of school early leavers, it shows a rapid increase in the number of NEETs,” KANEP’s director, Christos Goulas, told EURACTIV, adding that this increase is closely connected with the constantly rising youth unemployment rate.

The latest Eurostat statistics showed that in September 2015, the highest youth unemployment rate in the EU was recorded in Greece (49.5%) followed by Spain (47.5%), Croatia (45.1% in the third quarter 2015) and Italy (38.1%).

In November 2015, 4.553 million young persons (under 25) were unemployed in the EU28, of whom 3.167 million were in the euro area.

Compared with November 2014, youth unemployment decreased by 412,000 in the EU28 and by 163,000 in the euro area.

The general unemployment rate was also the highest in Greece (24.6%) and Spain (21.4%).

Poor infrastructure

Another conclusion of the report is the poor quality of infrastructure in lower secondary education.

Directors of secondary schools noted that 21.0% of pupils aged 15 were faced with insufficient heating, cooling and lighting that prevent “too much” or “much” of the learning process.

The rate increases to 34.8% when it comes to shortages in learning spaces (classrooms, corridors, stairs, sealing issues, cleanliness, etc.) to an extent hindered the smoothness in the learning process at school.

Due to austerity policies, no school has been built or renovated for the last 6 years.

Commenting on the report, the Federation of Private School Teachers in Greece (OIELE), said:

“The conclusions of the report highlighted the major problems of the Greek education and the dilutive effect of [austerity-driven] memoranda of understanding [MoU] that exacerbated an already decadent situation.”

“Contrary to what happens in the rest of Europe, vocational training in Greece continues to be an education of "second category". It is important to understand the importance of increasing the attractiveness and quality of vocational education, as it is one of the most important pillars in our fight against youth unemployment,” KANEP’s Director, Christos Goulas, told EURACTIV.

  • Early February: First review of Greece's third bailout programme is expected.

Subscribe to our newsletters