TEFL Exams and Certificates in Greece

The story behind the story…

Teaching English as a Foreign Language as it is most commonly known is one of the biggest service providing industries in Greece.

Greece has one of the biggest percentages of non-native English speaking populations in the world. This is the direct result of the fact that Greece’s largest industry and champion bread winner is its tourist industry.

Going as far back as post world war I Greece, there was a great demand for English teachers and a very short supply. As a result, at some point the British Council set up its offices in Athens in 1939. It’s original aim being stated as:

The Council’s aim is to create in a country overseas a basis of friendly knowledge and understanding of the people of this country, of their philosophy and way of life, which will lead to a sympathetic appreciation of British foreign policy, whatever for the moment that policy may be and from whatever political conviction it may spring. While in times of danger this friendly knowledge and understanding becomes vital to the successful prosecution of war (that is the Council’s place in the war effort), in times of peace it is not less valuable”.

The need for English teachers led to to a law being voted somewhere in the mid 1940s that Cambridge and later on Michigan C2 Level Proficiency Certificate holders could actually get a work permit and teach English as a Foreign Language in order to facilitate the growing need for English teachers in Greece and meet the very short supply.

For almost 40 years the only language assessment examinations were those administered by Cambridge ESOL and Michigan University.

The state being the main employer at the time , quickly developed a public sector of over 550,00 with a population of less than 9,500,000.

However, times changed in Greece and the National Independent Qualifications Assessment Board called ASEP came into place in 1994. The state being the main employer at the time , quickly developed a public sector of over 550,000 with a population of less than 9,500,000.

The public sector salaries were almost double that of the private sector. There was no further assessment, no personal development, no chance of ever getting fired and salaries only rose year by year based on seniority rather than merit.

In order for somebody to get employed by the state, a certification of at least B2 level in English was set in place and was also appointed some extra points on the scoreboard of criteria set by the National Independent Qualifications Assessment Board ( ASEP).

The grounds , incentive and motivation for the ELT world to change from teaching basic English to exam oriented exams had been set.

Since the incentive was only certificate acquisition, parents and ELT schools started pushing in the direction of students starting at an earlier age, attaining their certificate as early as possible so that the students could focus on getting the next certificate (ECDL, a certificate in another language etc.) anything that would enable them to collect points in order to make it easier to get a job in the public sector and earn more money.

The frenzy was on. Acquiring as many certificates as possible at whatever cost. Knowledge could wait or was no longer the issue.

Greece has the lowest age average for students sitting the C2 level exams in the world- under 16- and also the lowest pass rate in the world -approximately 40%- while the C2 level exams globally have an average age of over 18 years and a pass rate of over 70%.

The Greek ELT market now has 27 exams and certificates for B2 level and 17 for C2 level and we have some new additions.

The result of this approach to language learning was of course for other exam boards to see the Greek market’s needs and the Greek ELT market now has 27 exams and certificates for B2 level and 17 for C2 level.

The new trend only found Greek ELT publishers on their side and new books came onto the market introducing crash courses and certificate oriented curriculum.

This was now the Greek ELT schools new marking tool and angle.

This of course also had other side effects, as students who were attending private tutoring at home became more competitive. Private tutors could deliver certificates much faster than any ELT school curriculum could.

The rat race was on, ELT schools competing among themselves and against private lessons on who could get students to certificate acquisition first.

Many found themselves both unemployed and unemployable.

However, nobody had anticipated the forthcoming economic crisis and when the crisis hit Greece the knowledge deficit and the malpractices of ELT schools became obvious as those who had followed that path simply found themselves holding certificates without the ability to speak or write basic English. Many found themselves both unemployed and unemployable.

These ELT schools offered knowledge, skill sets and maintained high level of English Teaching.

The Greek ELT schools now face a huge challenge….The difficulty of adopting curriculum design to market needs. In other words, to display their ability to adapt and comprehend change. There are many who defended their school identity and culture . These ELT schools offered knowledge, skill sets and maintained high level of English Teaching and Learning.

However, there are still many who have not realised the shift in market needs and are trying to attract customers by offering low price tuition fees as a last resort to attracting customers.

Knowledge is a 21st century commodity…

This is the story behind the story of ELT in Greece, a story that finds itself in the making of the final chapter. Knowledge is a commodity, English language acquisition in Greece was treated as a non-standard product that could be customized, offered and sold on the face value of a certificate.

No new economy can function without knowledge and knowledge acquisition takes time.

The 21st century market needs and the digital era caught the Greek ELT market off guard and by surprise. No new economy can function without knowledge and knowledge acquisition takes time. The only unmaking of this homemade Greek tragedy lies in adopting a much-needed mind shift in education that many, still refuse to or are too afraid of change, to make.

Educator, Teacher & Life-long Student