Wind Renewal and Heinrich Böll Stiftung Greece have started a constructive debate with researchers, representatives of business units, social and environmental bodies as well as experts about “Green Deal” and its significance for Greece, particularly in four fields:
- Climate and energy
- Residences, cities and transportations
- Green finance
and in four horizontal policies:
- Social cohesion, social policy, social pillar
- Education, youth, employment
- Gender dimension, social inequalities and discriminations
- Social business, social and solidarity-based economy
The aim is to develop, through systematic consultation, a proposal for a Green Deal that will leave no one behind and will contribute to the creation of a new production and consumption model. In this context, we have started publishing a series of articles on these topics.
The tenth (10) article in this series, by Babis Papaioannou, Ph.D Candidate at the Department of Political Sciences of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and active citizen, focuses on youth and education.
Education - employment and youth in the new era
After a decade of economic crisis and the pandemic already in its second year, talking about young people in Greece is becoming increasingly complex, while the next day requires difficult decisions by many at local, national and European level along with commitments to overcome both the stereotypes and the problems that brought us to the current situation.
Point one: Today’s Greece for young people. Youth unemployment at 35%, the second highest among EU countries. Half a million young people have left the country in the last decade, mainly graduates and specialists in various sectors of the economy. Destroyed by the pandemic, the economy is no longer able to offer even the slightest productive suggestion to young people, while all social protection networks are almost dismantled.
Point two: Young people in the region, on the islands, in the remote and mountainous areas of the country. A significant difference between the urban centres and the countryside of Greece. The opportunities, the information, the support that the young people in these areas can have are almost non-existent. The result: Internal migration. Places that cannot keep their young citizens and especially young graduates. From Thrace to Epirus or Peloponnese and the islands, the case is almost the same. Closing and merging of schools every year due to lack of children, large decrease in births, inability to convince young people to stay especially after graduation and their return to local communities.
Point three: The internet generation, the Millennials or Generation Y, the children born just before the 21st century. They have direct access to technology and mobile devices, now openly questioning the education process and the outdated curricula from primary to university level. They demand radical change of Greek society, they are not politically organised and when they realise that things do not work for them, they just leave. But their point of view is clear and their criticism is strong and hurtful. In a 2020 SEV (Hellenic Federation of Enterprises) survey on the problems identified by young people in the country, they put everyone before their responsibilities. Lack of meritocracy, corruption, low quality social benefits and poor working environment in Greek companies are the reasons that push young people to leave in search of better living and working conditions. Points of criticism that almost no political party and social formation raise as extensively and clearly as young people.
Point four: In those days the boys met together secretly and, because bad news kept increasing in the capital, took the decision to get out into the streets and squares with only one thing remaining to them: aa hand’s length of space beneath their open shirts, with the black hair and the sun’s little cross. Where spring had its state and its authority. (Odysseus Elytis, Axion Esti, The Great Exodus, 1959).
Young people, being active and participating in movements today, react to the conservatism, authoritarianism and police-state that try to impose themselves on Greek society. They openly show their solidarity with refugees-immigrants, actively participate in the movement for climate change, strengthen the forms of civil society, create new communication networks, require their participation in decision-making structures, and gradually acquire the hybrid identity of Greek-European citizen.
Point five (and last one): The new era. In Greece, on the periphery of European capitalism, after the economic crisis and the pandemic.
The big and basic challenge before us is the new model which is gradually being installed in Europe. The 4th Industrial Revolution (BigData, AI, MachineLearning), the competition between Europe, USA and China for digital dominance, but also the issues of environment, quality of life, biodiversity and social rights that are particularly high in the European agenda as pointed by the priorities set in the Recovery plan for Europe.
The need for urgent and radical changes in the national education system is generally recognised. Not just managing changes but in the direction of creating a new model that will not be (once again) a Greek patent but it will follow the trends, innovations and experiments that have been developed in other European countries and generally have four priorities:
- To transform the compulsory education from the model of learning mathematics, history and language to one that would “provide all students with knowledge and skills to create integrated personalities, happy, capable and responsible people for the society” (Definition from the role of education in Sweden)
- To connect the education with the local needs of society and economy as well as with the goals set by the citizens themselves and their groups.
- To provide a clear direction for strengthening the technical and vocational education, its ‘destigmatisation’ from being the solution for ‘third class’ students (those who have the means go to private schools, the others in general education schools and the ‘bad students’ in technical and vocational schools) as well as an organised introduction of the dual education system with one expertise, adapted to the German model.
- The digital redesign of education that will include tools, structures, services, databases but also trained and sufficient staff.
“Education is required to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving and technologically changing globalised environment. The development of digital culture, the use of new learning objects along with interactive and personalised learning process are the current trends that education policy must take into account” (According to the Digital Transformation Bible presented by the Ministry of Digital Governance, in December 2020).
The general assessment about the state of education in Greece is that a radical change in the dormant current system of compulsory education will positively affect university education too, as it also needs serious changes. At the same time, international competition, public evaluations and rankings of departments, faculties, laboratories and universities cause additional pressure, along with the internal contradictions and mainly the understaffing, the underfunding and the almost complete disconnection of universities from the needs of society and economy. The fact that 23.9% of university graduates, after receiving their degree, have to attend a training course at a Vocational Training Institute (VTI) (level 5 of Hellenic Qualifications Framework unlike the higher education levels 6, 7 and 8) to be able to access the labour market is indicative of this situation [A January 2021 survey of Centre for the Development of Education Policy of the Greek General Confederation of Labour on vocational training and employment in 2020 shows that the 23.9% of VTI students had either graduated from a university (9.9%) or a Technological Educational Institute (9.2%), while 4.8% had a master or doctoral degree, followed, statistically, by the graduates of high school (46.4%),Technical and Vocational Education and Training (11,5%) and those of Vocational Training Institutes (18%)].
The current situation in Greek labour market is so unclear that, for most analysts, the end of pandemic (in the best case scenario, in 2021), which will mean the resumption of all economic activities, the true realisation of recession and unemployment rates, the development of new sectors and the redefinition of labour relations, will be equivalent to the true redefinition of all the parameters that govern the Greek economy throughout its course and in all of its sectors. The dependence of Greek economy to imports of consumer goods and raw materials, the smaller participation in foreign markets through the reduction of exports and the destruction of labour relations will make this resumption particularly difficult and painful for all social partners and especially the young ones.
In this complex, very strange but at the same time transitional point we are in, like most European countries that are beginning to take a stand for the new reality which has not yet been fully formed, it is necessary to see the strong elements of Greece and especially of the young people who will be invited to participate, shape, but also affect the new setting.
Many lessons can be learned from the pandemic. Natural networks collapsed and our societies survived thanks to digital ones. The digital transformation of the country accelerated and decisions that had been sitting in governments' desk drawers for years were successfully implemented in a short period of time and gained social acceptance. Documents, applications, certificates, banking, payroll but mainly communication between individuals, companies and groups became possible thanks to technology during this period of the pandemic. Remote working came to stay, as well as a series of digital applications that we learned about in the last two years.
Rural development is a new interesting trend already noted in many European countries including Greece. Many citizens have decided to change their way of life by abandoning urban centres for permanent settlement in the region, in need of a contact with nature away from the concrete and the isolation of the city. This move creates a positive dynamic for the Greek countryside and region as thousands of houses that remained closed and opened only during the summer months are now inhabited and create a promising outlook for local communities. There are many cities in Europe (unfortunately few in Greece) that, prompted by this social change, advertise the option of urban residents to move in their area and they win “the rural rematch”. Thus, the dream of the average European citizen for a house surrounded by a small land away from the impersonal –and now silent– cities can create an opportunity for ‘counterurbanisation’ that “will contribute to the geographical rebalancing of our country, which nowadays suffers from the desertification of the countryside”. Greek regional cities could easily be included in this plan and thus not only positively change their demographic characteristics but mainly support their local community and economy and keep their own young people, if not become attractive for those living in other areas.
The EU guidelines for new smart specialisation but also the priorities of the Recovery and Sustainability Plan that puts the issues of environment, energy and climate change in the forefront could once again give rise to new opportunities. Let’s just look at the example of Italy. It responds to the call of the times to reduce fossil fuels and gradually switch to fully electric vehicles not only by facilitating the purchase of mainly imported electric cars from other countries, but by developing a national strategy and industry for research and innovation to convert conventional cars to electric. In this way, it creates friendly technologies, participates as a protagonist in the next phase, creates quality jobs with the cooperation of universities, research centres and companies, and of course it exports know-how and technology to other countries. InIn contrast, Greece ranks 19th in research and 20th in innovation among EU countries with just 1.3% of its GDP on research and innovation, when the target of EU directive and funding-programmes for member states is set at 3%.
Finally, an important area that could also prepare, support and strengthen the new generation for this new complex environment is the research, mobility, volunteering and internship programmes announced by the EU for the programming period 2021-2027. Such programmes that, using non-formal education as their main tool, can prepare the young people, make them part of a network, provide them information and good practices, show them how to be responsible citizens and introduce them to the European big picture.
It is clear that the above framework is not easy and cannot produce immediate results. Like most policies, it takes a decade of strategic planning to support young people. It requires consistency, continuity and resilience to political change, and especially the change in government. Across Europe, we can find policies implemented in favour of young people that have the same structures for decades followed by small changes resulting from timing or change of government. The existence of tools such as the National Youth Strategy, the interministerial and parliamentary collaboration and networking of structures, services and support actions for young people are considered evident practices.
Finally, the development of digital applications friendly to young people and especially to vulnerable groups and those of younger age will send a clear message: That they are not alone and that the state can support their plans, dreams and expectations in a coordinated local, regional, national and European level. It is the least a country can do that simply states that young people are the future and must make a great effort to become its the present.