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Greek Students Marched for a Better Education Yesterday

High schoolers marched through Athens on Thursday to demand changes to the exam system and improvements to the public schools.
November 7, 2014, 3:00pm

Photos by Nikos Palaiologos / SOOC

On Thursday afternoon, I went to Athens University to meet up with some  students from the First Holargos High School. "We told you we'd be here," they said as I arrived. I met the group a couple of days ago, spending a night squatting their occupied school with them.

Thousands of students, teachers, and parents had been gathering in the center of the city since Thursday morning to take part in a national student demonstration, just two months after the beginning of the school year.

On Monday a post appeared on Facebook calling for students across Greece to occupy their high schools, in response to a "new school" bill, which includes drastic changes to the exams process, the syllabus and which may lead to teacher and textbook shortages.

As expected, the occupation call out didn't sit well with the Education Minister, Andreas Loverdos, who ordered an investigation into the identity of the person responsible for creating the event, provoking public outrage in the process. At the same time, Prosecutor General, Euterpe Koutzamanis instructed prosecutors across the country to dismantle squats wherever they were. In the Attica region, parents as well as high school students were arrested.

"We are not intimidated. We aren't going anywhere, even if they bring in the riot police. We want the students who are afraid to overcome their fears and come out to support us. Teachers and parents should join our cause. I don't think we are getting the life we deserve," said Stamatis, a high school student I met at the march.

Eva, another high school student, added: "I have come here today to protest against the recent educational reforms and the fact that students are going to have to pass exams for each year of high school. Schools have been turned into testing centers, instead of educational hubs. On top of that, our parents are forced to pay for private lessons at home because schools are failing to prepare us properly for each exam—wouldn't you be out protesting on the street too?"

Teachers and parents were standing by the students. "We support the demonstrations and we are also here to have our own demands heard," said a high school teacher.

Also taking part in the protests were university students. Their demands have to do with the degradation of the public university, the lack of public funds geared towards public education, government policies, the education minister, the new high school system, the high school entry exams, and student services. So pretty much everything.

With most of them facing complete uncertainty concerning their future, young Greek people are trying to take matters into their own hands.

​About 4,000 students, teachers, and parents shouted slogans and held banners that read, "Our dreams are their nightmares" and, "We want education that educates, not education that kills."

As a backdrop to the demonstration, an argument erupted in Parliament between George Stylios, the Secretary of State for Education and Liana Kanellis, an MP from Greece's Communist Party, while discussing the issue of malnutrition among students. At what seemed to be the most heated moment of the conversation Stylios told Kanellis, "you need a Kasidiaris"—to sort you out, was the implication.

For those who need a memory refresher, Ilias Kasidiaris is that Golden Dawn MP who ​slapped Liana Kanellis on live TV and whose trial for ​b​elonging to a criminal organization is pending. Following that incident, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras demanded Stylios's resignation.

"I am completely appalled that on the day we are marching to demand better education the government's close ties with the most vile concoction of this crisis is exposed in this horrendous manner," says Panos, a university student, when I tell him what's happened.

Photo by Nikos Libertas / SOOC

​​The blocks of demonstrators stood in front of the Parliament for a long time shouting slogans. A group of pupils and students smashed the metal barriers that had been placed in front of the building of the Parliament, while some threw oranges towards the building. Riot police were lined up in front and beside the demonstrators and the riot buses had closed the roads surrounding Syntagma Square down but ultimately everything went smoothly and no tear gas was thrown to anyone's face.

Which, I guess, is a change.