Results from a Multi-Year Educational Intervention
The Project is a multi-year, long-term endeavour for the improvement of the education that is provided to the children of the Muslim Minority in Thrace. It is a product of the new strategy of the Greek State toward the Minority citizens, which started to take shape in the ‘90s. It became clear then that the policies of discrimination and marginalization that had been implemented up until that decade had negative outcomes, had prevented Minority members from integrating into the society, had led them to a dependency on the authorities of Turkey, and, moreover, constituted a shameful blot on the European image of the country. The new set of policies has in its core the respect for the principles of “isonomia” – equality before the law” -- and “isopoliteia” – equal citizenship rights.
Part of this change is our Project, which was designed as an educational policy whose central goal is “the harmonious integration through school of the Muslim Minority children into the Greek society and their being accepted by the majority as equal citizens”. The Project was first proposed, and approved for funding by the European Social Fund, in 1996, and since then it has been supported as an educational policy for the Minority by all the ministers of education of all the Greek governments (administrations) of the last 15 years.
When the Project was launched, the education that Minority children received was in an awful situation: These children would complete primary school with an insufficient or inadequate knowledge of the Greek language, which in many cases prevented them from continuing their education in a secondary school, and constituted a big obstacle to their integration into the society. As a research conducted by the Project showed, more than 65% of these children did not complete their nine-year compulsory education. All the conditions were negative, while the separate “minority schools” which most Minority children attended, together with the more general isolation and segregation, lead to a cultural ghettoisation. One of the visible causes of mass school failure was the textbooks and the method through which the Greek language was taught to these children. Minority children were taught Greek with the textbooks used in all the schools of the country, in other words with textbooks that presuppose excellent speaking knowledge of Greek in the first grade of primary schools, and, therefore, totally unsuitable for children with another mother tongue.
The multi-faceted actions of the Project were organized in two axes:
Α) Actions and Interventions Within School
The Project made the Greek language more easily learnable and turned it into a tool compatible with the expectations of Minority children for upward social mobility through school. It produced new textbooks and other education materials that follow contemporary pedagogical principles, use modern technologies, rely on the methods of teaching Greek as a second language, and take into account the special social and cultural framework of the Minority. They were shaped by the view that, for the integration of Minority pupils into the educational system and for their performing well in it, the basic precondition is respect for the language and the identity of the Minority. Since 2000, the textbooks produced by the Project have been the official textbooks for the Minority schools in Thrace.
The effective use of these new books and educational materials was supported through systematic training of teachers, which the Project conducted on the teaching of Greek as a second or foreign language, on how to handle issues related to bilingualism, and on the hugely significant part played by the mother tongue in the learning of a second language -- and in learning in general. Teachers were provided with information that is essential in carrying out their work, all the more so in the special conditions of Thrace.
Parallel to that, The Project contributed decisively in the improvement of the Minority children’s performance at school through organizing compensatory educational programs at all levels of education that enhance children’s command in Greek, fill known gaps and create motivation for learning.
Β) Actions and Interventions Outside School
Of crucial importance has been the setting up of the “KESPEMs”, the “support centers” of the Project, which can be described as some sort of community and learning centers, equipped with computer labs and lending libraries, and offering Greek classes from specially trained teachers. These centers also offer all the new books and materials of the project, plus many electronic educational materials and games.
Today there are ten such Centers, located in as many cities and villages of Thrace. They have a mixed and polyglot staff, comprised of majority and minority members, that helps children and their parents feel at home, or at least in an environment familiar to them. The KESPEMs have proven the effectiveness of the pedagogical methods that cultivate children’s curiosity and turn learning into an enjoyable and creative adventure.
One of the most significant innovations of the Project are the “mobile” KESPEMs. These are four mobile units (vans) that bring educational support and modern technologies, including laptops and electronic educational games, to remote and isolated minority villages, thus making it possible for these children to exercise their right to education and to equal access to educational goods -- a right that should be enjoyed by all children of this country.
The KESPEMs host the Creative Workshops for Youngsters, the DENs, which fulfill the most important want, or need, in the society of Thrace: The “mixing” of children from the Minority and the Majority, their creative coexistence, their cooperation for common goals.
The great educational success of the KESPEMs stem from the fact that they build a bridge over the local dividedness, thus transcending it. The KESPEMs are centers not just for learning, but also for socialization in the role of a citizen of a democratic country that is evolving constantly and improving the negatives inherited from the past.
The Project, as part of the new set of policies toward the Minority, contributed decisively to the big changes that are observed in the education of this community in the last fifteen years. School dropout from compulsory education has decreased at least by half, while in all educational levels the school attendance of minority children has increased spectacularly.
In secondary schools, the number of Minority pupils attending has increased more than twofold:
From 1500 pupils in 1997, to 3950 in 2010.
In high schools, the number of Minority pupils attending has risen five-fold:
From 550 pupils in 1997, to 2750 in 2010.
In tertiary (higher) education, the number of minority students who entered Greek universities rose more than seven-fold:
In 1997, this number was 68. In 2011, it rose to 482.
The project, whose motto has been "addition, not subtraction; multiplication, not division, has contributed since 1997 to the improvement of education provided to the Minority (and all educational outcomes for the Minority), through the acknowledgment of cultural diversity as a common feature of contemporary societies, the appreciation of the wealth generated from the meeting and the interaction of different cultures, and the respect for all languages and identities as an essential component of harmonious coexistence in every society.