Sunday, March 5, 2017

ELT in Greece: What has actually changed? - Report on Dr. Marina Mattheoudakis's Plenary Talk

On the second full day of the 24th Annual TESOL Macedonia Thrace Convention, Dr. Marina Mattheoudakis delivered a highly energizing Plenary Talk to a full house in the Bissell Library, American College of Thessaloniki.   Dr. Mattheoudakis’ warm and dynamic speaking style immediately engaged her audience, and her highly informative presentation kept us all engaged throughout her talk.  

                                                                                                                                   photo by Vassiliki Mandalou

Dr. Mattheoudakis began by explaining that foreign language instruction in Greek state schools is conceptualized within a more encompassing E.U. language policy, which advocates pluralingualism through foreign language education. The E.U. initiative aims to promote lifelong learning, to strengthen creativity and to encourage entrepreneurialism in Europe through a program of high quality foreign language instruction. Despite these worthy goals, however, recent legislation in the Greek Parliament seems to undermine their long-term viability.  As a response to this dilemma, Dr. Mattheoudakis suggested the possibility of classroom-based educational change which recognizes the crucial role of teachers as agents of change in a bottom-up grassroots reform movement. 

Dr. Mattheoudakis then provided a historical overview of foreign language instruction in Greece, and the special role of English as a foreign language within this scenario. Although Greek public policy of 1832 required foreign language instruction in all public schools, it wasn’t until 1945 that EFL was adopted as part of the secondary school curriculum. Beginning in the 1960’s, several academics, such as Professors Efstathiadis and Tokatlidou in Thessaloniki, and Professor Dendrinos in Athens, lobbied for improved foreign language instruction in Greek state schools. As a result of such efforts, by the 1990’s the number of contact hours was increased in all state foreign language classrooms, and high quality classroom instruction was prioritized. 

Continuing this innovative agenda, the National Curriculum for Foreign Languages of 2011 required that all foreign languages must be taught with analogous approaches, and the number of contact hours was increased from three to four hours per week.  However, the National Curriculum was never fully implemented, and in fact, recent years have seen a reduction of contact hours in foreign language classrooms in Greece.  Dr. Mattheoudakis then summarized recent legislation in the Greek parliament from 2016-2017 which seems to undermine the ability of teachers to deliver quality foreign language instruction. She also reported that not surprisingly, the vast majority of learners do not trust the state educational system and thus seek instruction outside of the state system.

                                                                                                                      photo Vassiliki Mandalou

As a response to this disjunction, Dr. Mattheoudakis suggested a more pro-active approach which foregrounds the crucial role of classroom teachers in bringing about change. By working more closely with the parents of their students, teachers can help to counter the negative effects of recent legislation on student learning.  For example, teachers can help parents understand that a heavy emphasis on exam scores rather than innovative instruction negatively affects students’ ability to develop genuine language proficiency.  Students should be encouraged to develop fluency, rather than accuracy, and parents should support their children’s efforts to develop fluency and communicative competence in foreign languages.

Teachers in public schools can also work to upgrade their teaching in a number of ways.  For example, teachers can find ways to use social media and other technologies more regularly in their teaching.  Teachers can also make learning more relevant to students by connecting their learning objectives to students’ lives and priorities outside of the school context. By making instruction appealing to students, teachers can create more meaningful learning experiences for their students.  In this way, teachers become active agents of change, rather than passive consumers of a state-generated curriculum which foregrounds test results at the expense of active learning.

Dr. Mattheoudakis ended her talk by reminding teachers that ultimately, each one of us has the power to shape what happens in our respective classrooms.  In particular, teachers can counter the trickle-down effects of a weakened economy by introducing educational innovation to upgrade their teaching practice, wherever and whenever possible.  As Dr. Mattheoudakis reminded us in her closing statement,  “If you want changes in public education, you must be the agent of change.”  

Report by Linda Manney

Interview with Marina Mattheoudakis by Linda Manney

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