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Greece

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The legal basis of education in Greece is the revised Constitution of 1975. Education is the constitutional responsibility of the State. It is provided free in public institutions at all levels, is controlled by the State, and is compulsory until the age of 15.

Article 16 contains the following provisions:

  • Research and teaching in arts and sciences are free, while their development and promotion are obligations of the state.
  • Education is the basic mission of the state. Its aims are the moral, intellectual, professional, and physical development of the Greeks, the development in them of a national and religious conscience, and their formation into free and responsible citizens.
  • The number of years of compulsory education cannot be less than nine.
  • All Greeks have the right to free education in state institutions of all levels. The State supports outstanding students and those in need.
  • The state is responsible for providing technical/vocational education in institutes of higher education. It cannot be less than three years duration.

The philosophy underlying the Greek educational system reflects the basic values of the Greek nation, which also constitutes the foundation of Western civilization. The Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs (MoE), created as the Secretariat for Religious and Public Education by the Constitution of 1832, is in charge of all activities pertaining to education. There is a national curriculum, uniform school timetables, and approved textbooks for each subject in each grade. All these are compulsory for the private schools, also.

The development of education in Greece cannot be seen separate from its turbulent sociopolitical context. In the 170 years since the country emerged as an independent state, it has been involved in more than four wars, a three-year foreign occupation, two long-lasting dictatorships, one bitter and devastating civil war, and numerous coups d'état. It also had intermittent civil wars and large influxes of refugees and immigrants, both Greek repatriates and non-Greeks. Such history for a small country weighs heavily on national development and has numerous repercussions on Greek education.


Educational Reforms: Educational reforms have always been a political issue in Greece. Since independence, the educational reforms have been initiated by different political regimes ranging from conservative to center to left. Appropriate laws authorize all educational reforms.

Succeeding governments do not necessarily continue the educational reforms legislated by the government they replaced. They reverse, withdraw, or abolish earlier decisions. This prevents education from moving forward and creates frustration for the pupils and their parents.

The educational system of Greece in the 1950s had three levels: a six-year compulsory primary school; a six-year secondary school (gymnasium) with a humanistic curriculum; and the tertiary level consisting of universities and the few tertiary schools of general education, such as the Teacher Training and the Physical Education academies.

There was some preprimary education. Generally the kindergartens were attended by a small number of children. Sixty percent of the kindergartens were in Northern Greece.

In the late 1950s the emphasis on modernization and planned economic development intensified reforms, especially for the expansion of technical/vocational education. In 1958-1959, there were 39,824 pupils attending vocational schools, and 239,648 enrolled in secondary schools (OECD 1980).

The educational reforms that followed were tied to the recognition that education and training are important elements in the economic growth of the country. Without education, the national income could not be increased, nor the social welfare and stability ensured.


Reforms of 1957-1963: The secondary school was divided into two three-year cycles. The first three grades were the lower cycle and emphasized a general and humanistic education. A multi-partisan committee of politicians and educational experts had reaffirmed in 1957 the priority of the humanistic curriculum while adding vocational education.

The upper cycle was divided into separate types of gymnasia: classical/literary, commercial, technical, scientific, agricultural, naval, foreign languages, and home economics, with a common core of classes for all.

The demotic language (the popular form of the Greek language spoken by the people) was introduced in the first three grades of the primary school, and the katharevousa (formal or purist) in the three upper grades. Teacher training of preprimary schoolteachers was increased to two years after secondary education, and made equal to that of primary school teachers (Law 3997 1959).

The occupations of the children included the religious, ethical, and social development, the proper use of the Greek language, introduction of arithmetic (reasoning), exercise of the senses, harmonious and unhindered development of the body, cultivation of dexterity, and development of the sense of good.

The Centre of Planning and Economic Research (KEPE) was established in 1961 to develop scientific programming of resource allocation for economic development, and technical economic training of personnel for key positions in government and industry.


Reforms of 1964: The educational reforms of 1964 promoted educational equality and economic growth after Greece joined the European community in 1961. In 1964, free education was extended to all levels.

The previous two stages of general secondary school were transformed into two successive and autonomous types of schools, three years each: the non-selective lower secondary, or gymnasium, and the upper secondary, or lyceum. A single lyceum was established, its purposes to provide contemporary education to Greek youth and to develop the future leadership of the country. Entrance exams were established to enter the lyceum, but entrance examinations from the primary to the gymnasium were abolished. The purpose of the gymnasium was to provide a comprehensive education for all Greek youth.

The demotic Greek language officially replaced the katharevousa as a medium of instruction. Also, technical/vocational guidance and the courses of anthropology, "practical knowledge about professions," and "elements of democracy" were introduced to the gymnasium curriculum.

Compulsory education was extended to nine years (ages 6 to 15), and co-education became mandatory from age 6 to 15. School lunches were introduced as well.


Reforms of 1967-1974: During the military dictatorship, most of the reforms were reversed or withdrawn. The use of the demotic language was limited to the first three grades of the primary school. Compulsory education was returned to six years (Law 129, 1967).

New legislation set up a new tertiary level of technical/vocational educational institutions, the Centres for Higher Technical/Vocational Education (KATEE). They would supply vitally needed upper-level technicians, and meet some of the rising demands for university entrance. By 1974, there were five such centers. Law 1404 (1983) transformed them into Technological/Scientific Educational Institutions (TEI). In 1997, there were 14 TEIs throughout Greece.


Reforms of 1975-1981: The country returned to democratic government in 1974. The revision of the Constitu- tion in 1975 reformed and expanded education, and gave it a new direction. Law 309 (1976) restored all the reforms of 1964 and dealt with the organization and function of general education from preprimary to lyceum. It also articulated the purpose of each level:

  • Preprimary education complements and supports family education by teaching appropriate behavior and correct expression, and provides for the physical and mental development. Attending preprimary is voluntary for children three and a half to five and a half years of age.
  • Primary education sets the foundation for learning, enriches pupils' experiences, and stimulates and develops their intellectual and physical abilities.
  • The gymnasium completes and consolidates the encyclopedic education of youth.
  • The lyceum offers a richer and wider curriculum than that of the gymnasium, for youth who plan either to attend institutions of tertiary education or to enter the job market.

For more effective teaching, the number of students per teacher was reduced from 40 to 30, and the number of teaching hours per week was reduced from 36 to a range of 28 to 34. Additionally, new textbooks were written and published, and seminars were organized for in-service training of teachers.

The new curriculum introduced the course of "technology" and the use of educational television. Adding to this, evening gymnasia were started for those students who needed to work during the day to earn their living. Lyceums also were established as both three-year day schools and four-year evening schools. A new type of lyceum, the three-year Classical Lyceum, was introduced as well. It offered additional hours in ancient Greek, Latin, and history, and introduced German as a second foreign language.


Reforms of 1981-1985: Automatic promotion was established throughout the grades in the primary school, and physical education and school athletics were emphasized in primary school. Entrance exams from the lower secondary to the upper secondary school were abolished. Uniforms for gymnasium and lyceum pupils were abolished as well. The Integrated Lyceum, or comprehensive school was introduced in secondary education in 1984. It bridged the gap between general and technical education.

The curricula were revised for all grades. They were based on the international bibliography and were adjusted to include Greek traditions. Teachers contributed to the development of the curricula. New textbooks were developed and printed. The new textbooks were no longer merely stores of knowledge, but workbooks to help pupils look for and build knowledge.

Reforms of the 1990s: A new system of postsecondary vocational training was established. The system incorporates the private Centres of Free Studies. The Hellenic Open University was established in 1996-1997 as well.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceGreece - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education