In September 2018, one month after the annual EUDEC conference, which we organized in Crete, we embarked on documenting the current situation of Democratic Education in Greece.
In the article “Schools under the trees: Education can and must become alternative”
by M.Kokkini (Source: LIFO) you read parts of this documentation.
Here you can read the whole documentation.
What is Democratic Education? What does it propose?
Before answering the question, we have to define the terms used in it.
When, in February 2017, we decided to found EUDEC Greece, the Greek Chapter of EUDEC (European Democratic Education Community), and host the following annual European Conference in Greece, we spent months reflecting.
We were lost in translation …
“Democratic”? The word carries such a heavy load and the concept has become so, so relative.
“Education”? Now there is a word that carries meanings and references irrelevant to our intentions.
With crossed fingers we decided to keep the term “Democratic” with the hope that our work will restore the essence of the term.
On the other hand, in the Greek language the English word “Education” has two possible translations:
- “παιδεία” (paideía: education in the broader sense of culture and learning) and
- “εκπαίδευση”(ekpaídefsi: formal education).
We chose “Παιδεία” instead of “Εκπαίδευση” because it would have been almost impossible to avoid the semantic references and the cognitive and emotional barriers “ Εκπαίδευση” carries, while by choosing “Παιδεία” we could allude to something broader, that involves personal evolution in all levels, in all aspects of life.
It is important to note that the term “Democratic Education” refers to a pedagogical approach that does not exist in Greece.
However familiar and easy to understand the term may seem, it means something different to what comes to mind when most of us hear it.
We could say “Democratic Education? Of course! That’s what we have in Greece”.
But no, we don’t.
Democratic Education is an existing (for more than 100 years now) international educational framework, which is based on egalitarianism and equity and which, until now, had nothing to do with Greece, be it Modern or Ancient.
Democratic Education doesn’t rely on the mandatory and imposed dualism of direction/assignment, reward/punishment nor on compulsion or representation. It doesn’t exclude anyone from decision making processes.
In Democratic Education the following principles are inviolable:
- Educators and students are equal, co-responsible and act in collaboration regarding the operation of the school. Students and adults enjoy the same rights through democratic decision making processes.
- Students have the right to choose freely the content, the way and the pace of their learning.
Deliberative democracy and equity are the core of Democratic Schools regardless of one’s position or age. In Democratic Schools the values/laws/rules are collectively decided upon and collectively changed.
Democratic schools are communities where Article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which states that children have a right to have a say on matters which affect them, and “…the right to develop their personality freely in all aspects that compose it” (Article 5 of the Greek Constitution) is fully realised.
In Democratic Schools there is:
- No form of coercive/authoritarian education or any approach/pedagogy based on adultism
- No form of religious and sociopolitical indoctrination
- No negation of human potential and attributes because of color, race, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, and, in general, no suppression of diversity.
In this sense Democratic Education does not exist in Greece yet.
What are the main points of your disagreement with the existing educational system?
There is no issue of disagreement. Our proposal aims to take education o
ne (or more) steps further. Society is changing. Schools cannot remain behind. From the infrastructure to the curriculum, from the books to the entry exams, there is room for improvement of Greek schools; no one denies it.
We position ourselves in this “space for improvement”; for the recognition of minors as equal members of the school community and their right to have a say in the matters that concern them.
You are saying that in democratic schools students and teachers can equally participate in the school life. How do you propose to realise this and, mainly, why?
Students and educators participate equally in shaping school life through collective decision making. All the members of the community, regardless of their age or status, have an equal say in decisions on school rules and regulations, the curriculum, the hiring of teaching personnel, even the financial management of the schools’ resources.
The essence of Democratic Education is a democratic community in which everyone is valued… (ALF Summer Training’18)
The school council is the most important institution of the school as this is where how the school works is decided. It happens regularly, once or twice per week, with the participation of both the educators and the students. Everyone, regardless of her/his age and status, has the right to vote. This, in a way, means that children define how their school works, as they are usually the majority in the School Council.
For students and educators to apply Democratic values in practice, that is to:
– make collective decisions
– respect different points of view
– practice dialogue
– be able to influence the reality they live in and thus acquire an active stance towards social life.
– be initiated in “responsibility” and “accountability”, concepts that take their true meaning only when they are associated with freedom.
Differences, difficulties and problems are resolved by the Judicial Committee. For example, when someone doesn’t follow the rules of the school someone else can file a complaint against her/him. The complaints go to the committee, where the complainees are called to answer. All this is infused with a spirit of dialogue, trust and an effort to understand both sides, of the complainant as well as that of the complainee. The process is directed in its’ biggest part by the students themselves, who interchange between the role of the “judge”, the role of the complainant and the role of the complainee.
- To build relationships based on trust and respect for the personality of the other.
- To solve conflicts in a spirit of equity, respect and coexistence in the community.
- To facilitate the trust of students and educators in their own ability to handle conflicts in a constructive way and solve problems in a creative manner.
- To develop critical thinking and to continuously develop/revise/readjust the common sense of justice.
- To put to practice and experience in life restorative techniques, as they are defined in “Restorative Justice”
- To develop empathy and a feeling of responsibility
Democratic Schools are grounded in the culture of equity and co-responsibility. Respect brings respect. Trust builds trust. Compassion breeds compassion. Acceptance cultivates acceptance. When we listen, we are listened to in return.
We are told we live in a ‘democracy’.
Yet, if there is little or no democracy in our schools how can we expect current and future generations to understand, practice, let alone find a way to preserve or enhance democracy in their societies?
Democratic education seeks to empower young people and teachers through self-responsibility and democratic participation in schools whereby students learn to speak their minds, fight for issues that are important to them, solve problems as a group, respect the opinions of others and contribute to developing their communities by establishing inclusive, communicative and cooperative pedagogies.
Learning processes are thus harmonious and respectful towards all. Upholding the human rights of students and the human rights of teachers are of utmost importance in the classroom. In short, democratic education results in the development of reflective individuals who are collaborative problem-solvers and creative flexible thinkers.
Just what the world of constant political turmoil and emergent technologies needs.
Democratic education seems to reiterate the question: what do we consider important for students to learn at school, and how? How do you think we can empower our students?
Learning in Democratic Schools is self-directed and discovering.
Students choose what they will learn, when, how, and with whom.
Learning can take place inside or outside the classroom, through play or traditional study. The key is that learning stems from inherent motivations and follows the student’s interests.
We all learn when we are interested in something.
We often treat children as if they are creatures without will, interest, imagination and thirst for knowledge. Children!
Since the 1940s, psychologists and researchers, like Harry Harlow, have been saying that the greatest motivation for learning is the very joy of discovery.
Kids are curious, they want to learn! “Why this?” and “Why that?”.
Children are always excited to present something they explored themselves and to explain what they have discovered. They share their achievements joyfully and with pride.
Today’s children will live in a very different world from that we know, a world beyond the boundaries of traditional education.
They need an environment that will help them acquire skills in digital media, in social, cultural and emotional intelligence, self-awareness and the concept of their purpose.
Students do not need empowerment; they need the freedom to be their wonderful selves.
Coercion in learning weakens students by reducing their natural motivation for research. Non-inclusive strategies towards student’s peculiarities and special interests, inclinations and personality have a similar effect.
An employee may lose every ounce of productivity if she/he feels oppressed in his workplace and the same goes for children and young people.
Students are empowered, when they can have a say in the how and the what of their learning.
Some examples of democratic schools abroad.
‘Democratic Education’ does not have a singular, objective, or fixed meaning.
‘Democratic education’ is a term often used by teachers, academics, educators and policy-makers which simultaneously can signify many different meanings, understandings and practices.
Democratic education encompasses a broad range of theories, philosophies, pedagogies and educational practices. From the liberal progressivist theories of John Dewey to communitarian and dialogical forms of democracy to critical and/or anti-pedagogical approaches to new technologies such as the gamification of learning.
Therefore, the term “Democratic School” refers to educational structures that practice, develop and promote democracy in education. It contains a wide variety of educational approaches, from Summerhill to self-directed learning communities, agile learning centers and international schools that combine student-centered learning philosophies.
“The various participants in democratic education are united in supporting
the spirit of the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and they implement it as the primary framework for everyday practices,
in all learning environments “(IDEC New Zealand in 2015).
At present, there are about 1,000 schools around the world which call themselves democratic schools. The way democracy works in these schools varies a lot starting from simple school meetings where students have a vote in certain issues to a complete democracy where students are involved in the full management of the school through its assembly.
Democratic schools have been around since the early 20th century. They first appeared in England, with Summerhill School, possibly the best known democratic school, the first democracy of children, where lessons are optional. It began to operate as a democratic boarding school in 1921.
Another important school, Sudbury Valley School, started in 1968 in Massachusetts, U.S. as a day school. Having no curriculum or no mandatory curriculum, grading or other structures usually found in schools, Sudbury Valley became another radical option.
Examples of Public Democratic Schools exist in Israel and Brazil.
Here you will find a map of the democratic schools that exist around the world.
What’s happening in Greece?
Educational alternatives are commonplace in much of the world; democratic schools of various types, Waldorf/Steiner schools, Montessori Schools and other pedagogic models, homeschooling, worldschooling and unschooling opportunities are available to students and parents.
In the land of Socrates and the founding fathers of the Athenian Academy you would expect ample interest in free-thinking, democratic education. And yet, an astonishing fact emerges: Greece does not have a single school that fully represents any of the educational philosophies mentioned.
Greek schools are believed to follow and support democratic principles, but democratic structures as described above cannot be found. Democracy in Greek schools is mainly based on courses about civil education and citizenship, but not on its application in school.
It certainly does not concern an equal relationship between teachers and students.
Despite the given educational standard, a small number of Greek public schools manage to include some of these principles in daily school life, mainly due to social conditions being in favour of some enlightened initiatives by teachers dedicated to their pedagogical work.
Although the curriculum includes interdisciplinary approaches and project based learning, in practice only a minority of schools apply this approach with no particular emphasis given to the pupils’ substantial involvement in co-creating the learning process.
In the private sector, there are some Montessori schools and schools that follow Steiner’s pedagogy, with limitations imposed by the state curriculum and serving only up to the age of 11. Furthermore, most of them are located in Athens, which means they are geographically exclusive.
The Ergastiri is of interest, an experimental non-authoritarian private school that operated from 1975 to 1981 for primary school children. Today, it only operates as a kindergarten.
In the public sector, there are teachers who apply democratic principles in their classes, carrying out valuable work, which highlights the fact that the Greek educational system, if appropriately taken advantage of, with good will and lots of work can act within the scope of Democratic Education.
‘’The School of Nature and Colors’’ in Crete is a brilliant example.
Especially in small schools with active teachers, there are school communities which operate in a sociocratic way.
In the field of informal and/or kindergarden education (compulsory after the age of 4), there are autonomous educational initiatives which operate according to the principles of democratic education. Some examples are:
- Mikro Dentro
- Mikros Ntounias
- Spring Academies
- Nature Play Agile Learning Center
- Greek union for promoting rhetoric education
- Towards a Different School
- Solidarity Schools
- ‘’Skasiarxeio’’ (Freinet Pedagogical Team)
- B-e School (SDE centre)
- The children’s Orchard
If your project or non-formal learning structure is not included in the above list, please contact us at email@example.com.
In September 2017 we created EUDEC Greece, the Greek chapter of EUDEC (European Democratic Education Community for Democratic Education).
We are active throughout Greece to promote Democratic Education and support initiatives and people engaged in improving the existing educational model and/or creating new ones. We also help them network.
Our goals are:
● To promote Democratic Education as a sensible educational model for our country, by informing parents, teachers and educational institutes about the basic principles and what they mean for the teacher, the student, the educational environment and the state.
● To establish, in legislation, the right to found and attend democratic schools, as well as other similar alternative education models.
● To function as a bridge of knowledge and information between Greece and the rest of Europe regarding Democratic Education
● To οrganize the European Democratic Education Community (EUDEC) Conference in the summer of 2018 in Greece
- To found and support democratic educational structures across the country.
We envision a wide-scale change in Education, where trust in the growing person characterises her/his everyday life, decisions are made through democratic processes and mental health, as well as relationships between members of the community, have priority over degrees and titles.
Here you can see our action plan as it has been shaped so far. It ranges from screenings and debates, to promoting and practicing democratic education and establishing educational structures.
Our Proposal for an Educational Program entitled “School Partnership for Democracy in Education” to the Institute of Educational Policy (IEP) -a Partnership between Democratic Schools of EUDEC and Greek Primary and Secondary Schools, aiming at the diffusion of Democratic Education’s techniques has been approved. The program has begun with the participation of over 200 teachers all over the country.
We have almost completed the founding of the association “Syn-paideia”, working towards alternative educational structures coming to light and contributing to the change of the legal status regarding the right of choice in education.
We invite students, parents and teachers to become members of the association.
Here you can learn more, join and sign up to receive our Newsletter.
On the 2nd of February 2019 we organised the first Greek National Democratic Education Conference in Athens.
The “School of Nature and Colors’’ in Crete.
What happens there? How was it created? How does it work? Are there other examples like this?
The School of Nature and Colors is a small public primary school in Fourfouras, in the mountains of Rethymnon in Crete.
It operates in exactly the same way as all schools in the country, with the same curriculum, timetable, procedure of recruiting teachers etc.
What happened at this school is a miracle for Greek standards, yet a daily routine in other parts of the world.
Seven years ago it was staffed by a small team of visionary, inspired, young teachers who were not afraid to experiment.
By 2016, when their “tenure” ended, they had implemented democratic practices without discounting the state’s educational goals.
Together with students, parents and the local community, they managed to transform an almost abandoned school into a world school-model within 3 years.
They took the children out of the class rooms, they encouraged self-directed experiential learning, they connected the school with the local community and with technology, letting children lead the way.
What Angelos Patsias (the director of the school) and his colleagues did can be done here and now in all Greek schools, as long as we want it enough, as he says in every speech he gives.
Other examples of such teachers are Aspasia Kalisora (2014-2017, Elementary School of Argyroupoli, Rethymnon), Antigone Kiparopoulou (2014, General Lyceum of Karea), Fotini Dimopoulou (Elementary school of Vatolakkos, Crete) and many other admirable teachers across the country.
Is democratic education being discussed in Greece?
Are parents concerned? What about teachers?
In recent years many public debates and meetings are happening around Greece thanks to a widespread awakening regarding the rights of children, young people, parents and teachers.
In May 2015, the Greek Action for Human Rights “Pleiades”, in collaboration with other initiatives and individuals, composed a comprehensive proposal for a fundamental legal reform of the Educational System.
Since then, such actions have not ceased.
Many parents and teachers are concerned about all this.
Obviously, the economic and social situation encourages introspection. The economic crisis makes society face its responsibilities and turn to the re-negotiation of essential and basic issues, such as young people’s education.
This is happening both on an individual level, parents and educators, and on a collective level in parents’ associations, teachers’ unions and central government.
It is reflected in the increase of and large participation in trainings, seminars and pilot projects endorsed by the IEP (Institute of Educational Policy) and implemented by the Ministry of Education.
There is a lot of discussion… action is needed.
What are the key points of interest concerning the EUDEC 2018 Conference? What topics were discussed? What are the conclusions?
Here you can see a EUDEC 2018 photo slide show.
The 10th European Democratic Education Conference (#EUDEC2018) took place this year in Korfes of Heraklion, Crete.
For 8 days we created a democratic community where everyone, no matter their age, gender, profession, language and nationality, spoke freely and exchanged information on the social, cultural, economic and educational reality s/he experiences.
In an inclusive, free, cooperative and democratic environment we created and empowered friendships and partnerships and left with new concerns, hopes and knowledge.
An inclusive, free, cooperative and democratic environment (EUDEC18)
‘’Explore, exchange, enjoy education” was the title of the Conference and that’s exactly what
The EUDEC Conference is a condition where all ages have full voting rights. It is a situation where ages are not systematically differentiated and separated.
It was very important for us to soak up the potential of this condition and share what happens when it is safeguarded.
The Conference was for us a celebration of equity in practice.
We tried to create a group of speakers and a variety of topics that would bring together projects and people who represent education according to the principles of democratic education both in Greece and abroad.
We wanted to open a dialogue on minor’s rights in relation to their education and to connect education with social organization and the potential of social emancipation. Our goal was to create a group of speakers of different ages, nationalities and approaches to learning.
- Students of the Demokratische Schule X provided an experiential Beginner’s guide
to Democratic Education
- Anastasia Vafea was unfortunately due to health reasons absent, yet her presentation “The long way from Democratic Experimental Schools to Democratic Education” was made by Aspasia Kalisora who also presented “Experiences of children in a democratic class (Elementary School of Argyroupoli, Rethymno) & Freinet Pedagogy in Greek public school”
- Rachel Roberts presented “The (impossible?) art of being human and not influencing others”
- Derry Hannam spoke to us about the “4th industrial revolution, innovation and social inclusion – Why we need democratic education! “
- Freya Aquarone shared her unorthodox educational journey.
- Nariman Moustafa talked about Agile Learning
- Angelos Patsias spoke about “Another education, starting tomorrow!”
- Zoe Burgess spoke about “The importance of personal choice”
- Yaacov Hecht shared his ideas on “Democratic Education 2.0: the global shift from a Pyramid Paradigm to a Network Paradigm”
- Representatives of Mikros Dounias spoke about “Managing Discrimination within
Community: Recognizing & Fighting Adultism “
- Representatives of Mikro Dentro (Little Tree) spoke about “Managing Discrimination within community: Gender, body and sexuality in childhood “
- Nana Hatzi talked about “Summerhill School: Its Message to the World”
- Peter Hartkamp talked about “Children are also humans: Human
Rights in a Sudbury School”
It is almost impossible to mention the topics discussed because over 100 talks, presentations, film screenings, discussions, performances and workshops took place! (EUDEC18)
And that was only a part of the conference!
Along with the keynote speeches, the main part of the conference was the Open Space workshops, discussions and games.
These occurred spontaneously or were organized beforehand. All the participants, no matter their age, could offer and/or request workshops and activities.
Every day there was so much happening we were running to keep up…
You really couldn’t decide what to do first. The experience of having such an abundance of offerings for all tastes, was incredible.
Artists and educators from all over Greece offered workshops, performances and other events for all ages.
Through these activities we experienced what democracy is from the perspective of young citizens who normally have no say, what happens when their voices are heard and what role art plays in all of this.
It is almost impossible to mention the topics discussed because over 100 talks, presentations, film screenings, discussions, performances and workshops took place!
Here you can get only a taste, as all the gaps you see in the online program were more than filled during the conference.
350 participants from 26 countries attended the conference: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, England, Estonia, France, Finland, Ghana, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and Ukraine!
Among them, over 70 children and 80 Greek teachers of all school levels, giving hopeful promise for the future of democratic education in our country.
In the context of the conference the EUDEC Annual General Meeting was also held.
Coming up in the next few months are: A conference for the implementation of democratic education in today’s Greek schools, the founding general assembly of the first association for Democratic Education in our country ‘Syn-paideia’, the National EUDEC Greece Conference and Spring Academies.
EUDEC 2018 met its objective of offering participants the experience of what Democratic Education and its Community are.
We had our minds set on offering awareness as an experience beyond philosophy and
academics, beyond hoping and dreaming. We achieved this.
Here is a ‘’mantinada’’ (Cretan poem) that Maria Menegaki and Ioanna Spiliopoulou wrote and presented during the last evening of the conference:
We gathered from the corners of the earth
To dream of schools that are free
To talk and to meet and together
to write what could be history.
We thank Korfes in the mountain, the hospitable village we’re at,
that as of today will have a special, warm place in our heart.
May we all meet again at the oak tree
to drink like tonight, to reflect
to join our forces together
and, above all, to be free.
What about the legal conditions? Is it feasible for democratic schools to operate in Greece?
Democratic schools can operate in Greece now and without any cost. It is only a matter of political will.
As explained in “Democratic schools-their prospects in Greece” by Dimitris
Lagios and in the comprehensive proposal by the Greek Action for Human Rights “Pleiades” and others, public and private democratic schools in Greece are feasible if certain legal adjustments take place.
National legislation is mandatorily subjugated to the Constitution of Greece, ECHR and complementary Protocols signed and ratified by Greece, as well as other conventions and legislation with over-legislative effect. If national legislation is found to oppose the above, it must be withdrawn, not be applied and be amended or supplemented appropriately.
Compulsory adherence to one specific curriculum approved by the educational authority is a substantial obstacle.
If this is modified and education rather than attendance becomes compulsory, without a
compulsory curriculum, as is the case in many European countries, Democratic Schools can operate in Greece immediately and to the fullest possible extent.
Maro, Evangelos, Electra and Zoe collaborated on this article.
More about each of us can be found here.
Photos: Evangelos Vlachakis (Cinevangelos), Vangelis Palamaris
Our team consists of parents, educators, academics and other professionals.
Some have worked in democratic schools abroad, attended and organised international democratic and alternative education conferences and other related events and some have been active for many years in academic research and implementation of alternative education structures within and beyond Greece.
We decided to focus our work on Democratic Education because it includes and supports a wide range of educational approaches, thus covering our – adults’ and minors’ – diverse needs and desires and our common and at the same time different dreams.
Within the context of Democratic Education we have experienced continuous and thorough redefining of democracy, keeping its concept and practices agile and in a vital relationship with the present, listening to all voices, the small and the big ones, the strong and the quiet ones and those that do not yet speak.
We consider Democratic Education an appropriate medium to become able to face the next generations responsibly, but above all, to face ourselves.