What can you do to help the European School Heraklion?

Some people have asked me what they can do to help the European School in Heraklion. Should they write to the European Schools organization, for example?

To answer this, I need to say a little about the nature of the problem. In order for the school to remain open, two things need to happen. First, the European Schools organization must extend the school’s accreditation. Second, the Greek government must continue to support and fund the school. (I suppose, in theory, the school could continue as a private one without any government support, but that’s not my preferred option.)

I’m hopeful with regard to the first factor — accreditation. The European Schools organization have been very supportive and I believe they understand the importance of the school and its potential. A decision on accreditation will be taken in April.

I’m more worried about the second factor — state support. Up till now, the Greek government has been under a legal obligation to fund the school as a condition of hosting the European Agency ENISA, which has been based in Heraklion since 2005. But ENISA seems to be in the process of withdrawing from Crete and perhaps from Greece as a whole. This is, I think, a pity (in many ways Heraklion is the ideal base for it), but I’m not hopeful that ENISA can be persuaded to stay.

Moreover, I don’t think it is good for the school to be dependent on the presence of a single, relatively small, institution. Although ENISA staff have been wonderful supporters of the school, people in the city have always worried that one day ENISA will leave, and this has limited the school’s development. Parents have been reluctant to entrust their children’s education to a school and educational system that may have no long-term future here. And, as I have already argued, there is a very strong case for having a European School in Heraklion, quite independently of whether or not ENISA is here. (I could say much more about this.) This, I think, is the case we need to make right now. And we need to make this case to the Greek authorities, local and national.

If you want to help, then I suggest you contact people in the local authority here in Heraklion and in the Ministry of Education in Athens and tell them why it is so important to you that the school stays open. Below I’ve listed some of the people you might like to get in touch with. (Some of these are already supportive of the school, so messages from you will encourage them and strengthen their hand in negotiation.)

George Terzakis, Regional Director of Primary and Secondary Education in Crete (the person with immediate responsibility for the school.) Tel: +30-2810-302440 Email: mail@kritis.pde.sch.gr

Stavros Arnaoutakis, Regional Governor of Crete. Tel.: +30-2813-400300/305 Email: gram.pkr@pkr.gov.1gr

Vassilis Labrinos Mayor of Heraklion. Tel: +30-2813-409101/2/3 Email: mayor@heraklion.gr

Nikos Filis, Minister of Education, Research and Religious Affairs. Tel: +30-2103-442000 Email via this online form.

Theodosis Pelegrinis, Deputy Minister of Education, Research and Religious Affairs. Contact as previous.

Costas Fotakis, Alternate Minister for Research and Innovation and President of FORTH research institute, based in Heraklion. Tel: +30 2810 391316 Email: fotakis@iesl.forth.gr

If you are a Greek resident, please also get in touch with your local Greek MP.

If you are a citizen of another country, you might also like to contact your embassy in Greece. (The British Embassy has a Twitter account, as does the British ambassador John Kittmer.)

Please join this former student in helping to make the case for this school!

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #8

#8 It creates citizens of the world

The Greeks have a saying: παπουτσι απ’ τον τόπο σου κι ας είν’ και μπαλωμένο (shoe from your own place even if it’s mended). It means that a partnership is more likely to succeed if it’s with someone from the same background. People sometimes use it to advise against mixed marriages. The idea, I suppose, is that people from the same background will understand each other better, have similar habits, and work together more smoothly.

I doubt if this was ever true (though perhaps it made sense in the past, when Greeks were under foreign occupation and needed to rely heavily on each other). But even if a shared culture does helps people work together, it’s not something our children will be able to take for granted. With globalization, multiculturalism, and mass migration, they will have to learn to get on with people from very different backgrounds. They will need to walk with others’ shoes.

It’s vital, then, that we introduce our kids to new situations and that we equip them with the linguistic, social, and cognitive skills needed to build partnerships with people who have different languages, beliefs, and habits. (Indeed, there’s evidence that linguistic and social skills reinforce each other.)

And this is exactly what the European School does. There, students, parents, and teachers from many different backgrounds come together on a daily basis to learn, work, play, and socialize. It is a unique community, which works precisely because it draws on the different skills each member brings. We have many shoes, from many different places, and we walk the better for it!

Why do I care about the European School Heraklion?

A friend has asked why I’ve been writing posts in support of the European School. After all, I’m not working there at the moment and my children do not currently attend the school. Why am I still bothered?

Well, I want to see the school survive and flourish. Selfishly, I would like to return to work there, and my kids miss it very much. (The reasons we left are complicated. But, as those who know them will testify, they didn’t reflect any lack of belief in the school itself.) But I also have other reasons for wanting it to flourish – I want it for the children, parents and colleagues who need it, for the city of Heraklion, for our shared European future.

And I’ve started writing about the school again because I’m very worried about it. As many of you know, its future is uncertain, especially given the latest developments at ENISA — the EU agency which the school was founded to serve and which is (sadly) in the process from withdrawing from Heraklion. Parents, teachers, and students are anxious and dispirited, and many fear that closure is imminent.

I don’t believe that. But if the school is to survive, it must be re-established on a new basis independent of ENISA. And this will require good will, determination, and powerful arguments from all those who believe in it. It will be hard work, and I am writing these posts to show my support and to remind everyone of what’s at stake and why it’s so important we succeed.

This is a crucial moment for the school and we must keep our nerve, focus on our objective, and not give up. I want the European School to be there for all us in Heraklion and for all those who may come to Heraklion in the future.

The school has supported me and my family and I want to support it.

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #6

#6 It creates engaged and independent learners

Learning is (or should be) a journey of discovery, in which students learn how to approach problems and find solutions for themselves. It about learning how to learn as much as about acquiring information, and the teacher’s role is to accompany and assist students in their journey. Teaching in the European School is a pleasure because teachers have the freedom to do this.

We have detailed and rigorous syllabi, of course, drawn up by the European Schools’ organization, which list themes and objectives in each subject for each year group. But we also have a commitment to differentiated learning and teachers are encouraged to flesh out this framework in ways that suit their particular students, drawing on their individual needs, talents, and interests.

In the primary school, maths is perhaps the most guided subject, with specified texts as well as objectives. But even here we do not just set out concepts, methods, and theories for our students to learn. Rather, we help them to arrive at an understanding of the concepts, operations, and principles in a hands-on way, through manipulating resources and talking problems through with each another in a careful and critical way. They begin with a question or enquiry, draw comparisons and make connections, and try find an appropriate conceptual scheme for thinking about it. They then propose solutions, share and critique their ideas, and finally review and try to reach a conclusion. Assessment serves as a self-test for the student and a progress indicator for the teacher.

As maths coordinator I would use the journey metaphor when introducing the components to new teaching staff. The syllabus identifies our destination; the prescribed texts and supplementary materials are our means of transport; our teaching plans are our map, and assessment is our GPS. The learning process itself is the journey.

In this way, the school helps to develop creative and independent learners, ready to engage with an uncertain and ever-changing world, where learning never stops. Another reason to love the school!

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #5

#5 Because it has people like this

I stopped by the Venetian Loggia in Heraklion today, where children from various local schools were presenting their projects on the theme of water. The European School was represented, of course, and it was great to catch up with pupils, colleagues, and parents. Here are a couple of photos. Isn’t this another reason to love the school?

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Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #4

#4 It is vital for the academic life of the city

Heraklion is a major centre for scientific research. It is home to the Engineering and Medical faculties of the university of Crete (ranked 51st among the top 100 universities worldwide founded in the last 50 years). It is the headquarters of The Foundation for Research & Technology Hellas (FORTH) (one of the largest research organizations in Greece with an international reputation). It is hosts the Technological Educational Institute of Crete. the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, and the Cretaquarium. It is the home of one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, Knossos, and of several museums with international reputations, including the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, the Historical Museum of Crete, and the Natural History Museum of Crete.

These institutions conduct world-class research and should attract researchers from around the world. But for academics with families, the presence of an English-speaking school is a prerequisite for moving here, especially for those coming on fixed-term contracts. A visiting researcher or postdoc from the US, say, may not want to put their child into the Greek school system if they will only be staying for two or three years.

Or consider Greek academics who have left the country, as many have in recent years. This ‘brain drain’ is doing terrible damage to Greek scientific research, and it should be a government priority to halt and reverse it. And again English-language schools will be vital to the process, making return easier for Greek expats whose children have so far been educated wholly in English.

In short, Heraklion’s academic institutions need the support of an English-speaking school. Expat Greeks may be persuaded to return if there is an English-speaking school to ease the transition, and non-Greeks may move here if they know their kids will have a school to attend.

At the moment, Heraklion is lucky enough to have an English speaking school – the European School. Let’s not let it go.

We have lost too much already.

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #3

#3 It is not elitist

I’ve heard it said that the European School in Heraklion is elitist. Only someone who didn’t know the school could say this. The facts is that it is a state school, run by the Greek government. It changes no fees and does not select by academic ability. (This isn’t to say that its admissions policy is perfect; I will say more about this another time.)

Moreover, as anyone who has visited the school will know, it is not well-funded or lavishly equipped. Quite the opposite in fact; it is continual struggle for managers, teachers, and parents to make ends meet.

The idea that it is elitist probably comes a misunderstanding of what kind of European School it is.

There are two basic types of European School. Those of the first type are for children of employees of European Union institutions and diplomatic services. They are run directly by the European Schools intergovernmental organization and they are well-funded. Rightly or wrongly, some people regard these schools as elitist, since free admission is limited to children of EU staff, and other parents pay high fees.

But there is a second type of European school. In recent years the European Schools organization has encouraged the creation of accredited schools, which follow the European Schools curriculum but are funded and administered by national governments. At present there are twelve of these Accredited European Schools and more are planned. These schools make a European Schools education open to a much wider range of pupils, regardless of their parents’ job or ability to pay. The school in Heraklion is of this second kind.

So I firmly deny that our school is elitist. Except perhaps in one sense. It is a school where children belong to a welcoming and diverse community, where they are taught by gifted and committed teachers from many backgrounds, and where learning is stimulating and fun. It may not be a rich school but it is (as the European Schools inspectors themselves) a school with heart. In that respect its pupils are indeed privileged.

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #2

#2 It is more than a school.

The European School is not just a place where kids are taught. It is a whole community, which has expanded gradually over the years and which now extends across Europe and beyond.

The school has many local Greek students, of course, but it has also welcomed children from all backgrounds, who have for one reason or another come to live in Heraklion. Our school community has welcomed members from Brazil, Finland, France, Holland, Italy, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, the UK, the USA, and many other countries.

Students, parents, and teachers have formed a strong and supportive community, which extends far beyond the school gates. They work together to support the school, provide extra activities for the children, and help each out.

We stay in touch with students and parents who have moved away, and many of them return to visit us. When I taught there, former students visiting for the summer would return to their old class to catch up with their friends and share their experiences since leaving. (Last year my class had so many visitors that we decided to hold our own little international conference on learning. Students presented, described, and compared the teaching and learning methods in their various school systems. It was amazing.)

I’ve not taught at the school this year, but I keep in touch with the many friends I made during my time there. Indeed, some of my best friends are former students and parents of this wonderful school.

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #1

#1 It is a European school, which follows a European curriculum and is open to children from across the continent.

Yes, I know. At the moment many people would say this is a reason to hate the school. We all know about the failures of Europe — the bureaucracy, the lack of solidarity, the way that European institutions have been used to benefit some nations over others.

But this isn’t a reason to give up on Europe. Things won’t get better if we return to the nationalistic outlooks that fostered two great European wars. Rather, we need to build a new Europe — a Europe founded on genuine mutual understanding, respect, and support, whose institutions are flexible and sensitive, drawing on local strengths and supporting local needs, and where national cultures, traditions, and experiences are valued and shared.

How could we create such a Europe, you may ask. Well, maybe by schooling children from different European countries together, in schools where they learn about each other’s culture and traditions, share their experiences and hopes, and learn to think of other European countries not as rival nations but as the homes of their friends. By bringing up young Europeans to be proud of their own country but also proud to belong to a wider family of nations with a shared history and shared ideals.

Is this idealistic? Yes, definitely! But kids are naturally idealistic and we should foster their idealism — and learn from it ourselves. We need the SEEH and more schools like it. Greece needs them. Europe needs them.

Maria K.