Oppressive language education

In recent years, Modern Foreign Languages in Greece have been taught in accordance with the ‘mother language+two’ policy, which has held that learners should receive instruction in two modern foreign languages, namely English plus one of the following: French, German, Italian or Spanish. I have, in the past, expressed reservations regarding the selection of these particular languages, noting that it would be more beneficial if our education system were more responsive to the local linguistic ecology. It have always felt that it is politically short-sighted not to teach the languages spoken in our neighbouring countries (e.g. Turkish, Albanian or Bulgarian), and that ignoring the languages of migrant minorities defeats the stated purpose of embracing multiculturalism.

While short-sightedness and hypocrisy are pretty much the mainstay of our education system, I was surprised that the competent authorities managed to turn an already problematic policy into something even worse. It appears that, starting in the next academic year, Italian and Spanish will no longer be on offer, and that the students who might have selected these courses will be channelled into the under-subscribed and over-staffed French Departments. It is, at present, not clear what -if any- financial savings will be achieved by such a measure, or how the decision was made to discontinue these particular languages.

What is clear, however, is that this decision was not informed by either needs analysis or student interest: Anecdotal evidence from schools suggests that, in schools where Spanish or Italian courses were on offer, these tended to attract large numbers of students; similarly, a small-scale investigation that was conducted by my colleagues and me, suggested a need for more, rather than less, choice in Modern Foreign Languages. It is my firm belief that taking choice away from students is educationally unsound, and it is the root of the poor motivation reported in most studies of our school system.

The political implications of such a decision are equally disturbing: Firstly, the revised language policy implicitly states that some languages are more valuable than others. The point is also made, forcibly, that the valuation of languages must be done top-down: it is the Ministry of Education that will judge which languages are worth studying, not the people who are impacted by the decision. Thirdly, as the Ministry did not deem it necessary to disclose the considerations that weighted upon their decision, it is plain that educational policy is not accountable to the people. Not to put too fine a point to it, this is educational policy that is profoundly undemocratic.


Featured Image: The Zosimaia Teaching Academy in Ioannina, Greece | © PhotoIoannina, used by kind permission.

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