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Recent educational reforms in foreign language education policy and practice in Greece

Article by the Hellenic Institute of Educational Policy

Author: Catherine Seewald/20 May 2022/Categories: Show on front page, Greece

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Abstract

The purpose of the present paper is to provide an overview of the most significant language policies and innovations implemented in the Greek educational system focusing on the years 2019-22, namely:

i) The introduction of the English language in kindergarten through an innovative pedagogical approach,

ii) The design of new curricula and educational material for primary and secondary education, based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR),

iii) The legal consolidation of alternative methods of student assessment and the development of learners’ transversal and soft skills, through the new curricula and the introduction of the “21st Century Skills Labs” in the programme of study of Kindergartens, Primary and Lower Secondary Schools.

For a better understanding, we will link these recent innovations with the major changes in foreign language education during the last decade.

Keywords: Greece, language policy, CEFR, transversal competencies, alternative assessment, primary education, secondary education.

 

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Introduction

The Greek government, taking as a starting point the objective set by the Barcelona European Council of March 2002 “to improve the mastery of basic skills, in particular by teaching at least two foreign languages from a very early age” and the Council of Europe’s concern for improving the conditions of language learning and intercultural communication, has succeded in developing a promising, integrated foreign language pedagogical model, spanning from pre-primary to upper-secondary education, implementing a series of innovations.
To better understand these innovations, a brief overview of the Greek primary and secondary educational system is provided below.

 

A Brief Overview of the Greek Primary and Secondary Educational System

Compulsory education in Greece, which is free of charge, comprises:

a) 2-years of attendance ar kindergarten (Nipiagogeio) for children aged 4 and 5;
b) 6-years of attendance at primary school (Dimotiko); and
c) The first cycle of secondary education, i.e. 3-years of attendance at lower secondary school (Gymnasio).

Upper secondary education belongs to the second cycle of non-compulsory education and comprises two types of Senior High Schools that provide equivalent school-leaving certificates: the General Lyceum, with academic orientation and the Vocational Lyceum that combines general education with specific technical-vocational skills.
Both of them enable students to enter tertiary education.
Curricula are centrally developed and nationally implemented for all schools of primary and secondary education.

 

Foreign Language Innovations

Pre-school education

As of September 2021, the English language was introduced in preschool education (kindergarten) in Greece, after a successful pilot implementation. The aim of this innovative policy is to promote the holistic development of young learners through creative and meaningful activities that promote, among others, oracy skills, intercultural awareness, and 21st-century skills, as dictated by European and international guidelines. The most promising component of the project is the active collaboration of the kindergarten and the English teachers in developing scenarios for young learners specially designed within the CLIL (Content Language Integrated learning) philosophy, practices that enhance task authenticity and ensure practical application of the language. To support teachers in the project implementation, teacher training programmes were designed by specialists and provided through a distance learning modality, with programme assessment being an integral part of the endeavour. The project has generated an innovative pedagogical framework for teaching English in kindergarten, befitting the cross-thematic nature of the kindergarten’s curriculum, while it facilitated the transition to English language learning in the first two grades (English for Young Learners-PEAP programme) of the primary school.

 

Primary school and lower-secondary education

English language instruction in the first two years of primary school was based on a student-centered curriculum (English for Young Learners-PEAP) that focused on a “learning by doing” approach and aimed at developing students’ intellectual and psychosocial skills, through multiple experiential learning activities that account for students’ different learning styles, preferences, and interests. The programme supplemented the instruction of English in the next primary school grades introduced some years previously. The printed edition of the English Language Portfolio (ELP), a resource having the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) as a point of reference, was later distributed to schools and used for recording all of the languages in the learner’s repertoire, as well as documenting the student’s progress and achievements in languages. Designed on the principles of self-assessment and learner autonomy in the language learning process, the ELP aims at involving students in the evaluation of their work, in collaboration with their teacher, enabling them to take responsibility for their language learning. The step to follow was the development of the Integrated Foreign Languages Curriculum.
The Integrated Foreign Languages Curriculum for primary and lower-secondary schools has been in place since the 2016-2017 school year, spanning the teaching/learning of foreign languages from the third grade of primary education to the end of lower-secondary education. Through the curriculum, foreign language teaching, learning objectives, content, methodology, and evaluation are organized under the competence levels of the CEFR of the Council of Europe which emphasizes what students can do with the language, taking an action-oriented approach, and viewing them as “social agents.” This enables and indeed promotes the adaptation of foreign language teaching to the needs of specific educational, social and cultural contexts.

 

Upper-secondary general education

Foreign language education in upper-secondary general schools has been significantly upgraded since the 2016-2017 school year, as currently the expected levels of language proficiency at the end of upper-secondary general education have been upgraded to C1 for English (compulsory for all) and B1 for French/German (students select a second foreign language between French and German).
A new Common Curriculum for Foreign Languages in general upper-secondary schools has recently been developed. It is an extension of the existing Integrated Foreign Languages Curriculum for primary and lower-secondary schools but also incorporates aspects from the CEFR Companion Volume (2020) which broadens the scope of language education, including descriptors for mediation, online interaction, and plurilingual/pluricultural competence. The curriculum aims to develop students’ communicative competence, language and intercultural awareness, and mediation skills. It also aims to help students become skilled in multiliteracies and develop their digital literacy. The curriculum focuses on learning outcomes, i.e. everything that the students need to know, understand and be able to apply upon completion of each learning process. More specifically, expected learning outcomes are defined as the totality of information, knowledge, understanding, attitudes, values, skills, competencies, or behaviours students should master upon the successful completion of the curriculum. Consequently, all parameters of the teaching and learning process depend on the determination of the expected learning outcomes. The above goals are applied through the development of broad thematic areas, individual thematic units, detailed descriptions of the expected learning outcomes, in terms of indicative communicative language actions/activities and competencies and digital skills, and their horizontal connection with indicative activities per level of language proficiency. Teacher training and piloting of the new foreign language curriculum in model/experimental schools are currently implemented.

 

Upper-secondary vocational education

Vocational schools (EPAL) equip students with general as well as technical and vocational knowledge, expertise, and skills. A new curriculum for General English is in design, following the CEFR’s core philosophical concepts and principles and integrating transversal competencies as a tool to meet the demands of the labour market and increase employability.

 

Transversal competencies and foreign language education

An important aspect of foreign language education is the development of learners’ transversal competencies (also called “soft” or “transferrable” skills), which means developing their knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values in areas such as global citizenship, education for sustainable development, media literacy, their intrapersonal and interpersonal skills and “21st-century skills,” which include communication, co-operation, and teamwork, creativity, critical and innovative thinking, problem-solving, and leadership. This focus on transversal competencies has had a significant impact on Greek curricula and the educational system as a whole through the introduction of the “21st Century Skills Labs” in the programme of study of Kindergartens, Primary and Lower Secondary Schools throughout the country, introducing new topics and thematic areas in schools such as robotics, entrepreneurship, sex education, environmental protection and road safety.

 

Development of teaching/learning materials for foreign languages

A long overdue endeavoru to replace the existing teaching/learning materials for all foreign languages at all education levels has been undertaken. The pedagogical guidelines and the technical specifications have been developed. The materials include all teaching and learning resources that contribute to the formation of an active and creative learning environment, i.e. textbooks and supplementary material (audio-visual or digital) that support the process of building and enriching knowledge as well as the cultivation of students’ skills and attitudes. In this learning environment, in which the use of technology plays a key part, teachers collaborate with students in the interpretation and evaluation of the material, so that the acquisition of knowledge is based on discourse and the negotiation of meaning is based on the social context and the perceptions of the participants. The achievement of learning outcomes is based on the utilization of content not only from textbooks but also from supplementary materials in digital form. The aim is for the materials to define the learning process dynamically, to set directions that make the curriculum active in practice, and to propose activities that also draw upon the resources from the supplementary material. The interconnection of the textbooks with the supplementary digital material is done through the use of QR codes on two levels: the macro-level (e.g. thematic unit) and the micro-level (e.g. activities).

 

Alternative assessment

Along with the development of new learner-centered curricula and educational materials for foreign language instruction in Greek schools, alternative assessment methods have been adopted in addition to more traditional ones. While diagnostic assessment methods can be conducted to evaluate students’ linguistic level at the beginning of the school year and summative ones are used at the end of the school year to evaluate students’ overall achievement, alternative assessment methods (used mainly for formative assessment) can help learners establish self-improvement goals and be actively involved in the learning process through activities, such as self and peer evaluation. The novelty introduced is that alternative assessment (as formative assessment) can now serve as a substitute for a traditional test to evaluate students’ achievement and progress throughout the school year.

 

Conclusion

The present paper provides an overview of the recent changes in foreign language instruction in Greece, which are rooted in European and international guidelines. An integrated model for foreign language instruction, based on  the CEFR and covering pre-school to upper secondary education has been developed, new curricula and educational materials have been designed, with transversal competencies playing a key role in them, while alternative assessment has been consolidated.

 

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