The Greek ministry of education hopes to enrol thousands of refugee children in Greek schools, starting by the end of September 2016. Of the 27,000 children stranded in Greece, at least 18,000 are thought to be of school age.
Rights organisations have long warned of a “lost generation” of refugee children missing out on education. The crisis is particularly dire among Syrians: 1.5 million children who have fled to neighbouring Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon are not in school, creating a surge in child labour and early marriage.
In Greece, the average refugee child has been out of school for a year and a half, according to the NGO Save the Children.. Initially, education was not a priority for the Greek government, which has struggled to provide even basic services to the 60,000 asylum-seekers now marooned in the country.
Yet with registration and relocation programmes moving at a snail’s pace, there is a growing realisation that the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers will remain in Greece for some time.
“Things change every week, but we assume they are going to be stuck for a while,” says Naoko Imoto, an education specialist for UNICEF in Greece. “We’re thinking about years, really.”
A segregated school system
For the current school year, refugee children will be taught separately from Greek students. These so-called “reception classes” will take place in the afternoon, four hours a day, focusing on Greek and English, mathematics and IT.
The aim, the government says, is to prepare the refugee students to join normal classes in the coming year — either in Greece or elsewhere in Europe. For younger children, kindergartens are planned to be opened in camps.
Even though asylum seekers will initially be taught separately from Greek children, the move has been met with opposition. On Tuesday, a parents’ association in the northern Greek town of Filippiada complainte about the plan, voicing fears about diseases and arguing that their children would be unable to “coexist with migrant children”.
Refugee children, the parents’ association states, had “different perceptions on the role of family, the place of women and religion to Greek children whose parents have made sacrifices to offer their children the best education.”
The Greek education ministry earlier in September 2016 dismissed a complaint from a parents’ association in Oresteiada, another town on the northern mainland, which had threatened a sit-in protest if children from camps were admitted into their school.