It has been over 30 years since the first Greek day school started operating in Victoria. Since then, two more schools were added to the state list.
“In order to remain relevant they have to go with the flow of the third generation Greeks in integrated Australia. What does that mean: Language remains important but maybe not as much as with the second generation; besides the third generation automatically loses out a great percentage of the language.” Maria Vamvakinou Federal MP
All three schools, Alphington Grammar, St John’s Greek Orthodox College and Oakleigh Greek Orthodox College are striving to fulfil their original mission statements while adapting to new challenges and exploring fresh opportunities.
Moreover, three more schools in Sydney, two in Adelaide and one in Perth provide full time education with a focus on Greek language, religion and heritage.
So the question arises for all 9 Greek day schools in Australia: What are some of the new challenges as well as the fresh opportunities they are faced with?
For Federal MP Maria Vamvakinou this question hits home literally.
She has sent both her children to a Greek day school in Victoria and by default is immersed in this dilemma up close and personal.
She also adds expertise to the mix, before entering the realm of politics Ms Vamvakinou was a Greek language teacher.
“The priorities back then when Greek day schools were first established where much different from the ones today,” Ms Vamvakinou explained.
“In order to remain relevant they have to go with the flow of the third generation Greeks in integrated Australia. What does that mean: Language remains important but maybe not as much as with the second generation; besides the third generation automatically loses out a great percentage of the language.”
The decision to send her children to a Greek day school was determined by two factors: To preserve the language and maintain the Greek heritage.
Not passively she rushed to clarify.
“To say that their yiayia and pappou are Greek, but to be able to speak and read Greek and to identify with the Greek heritage.”
Additionally she believes that today children have busy schedules and a myriad of extracurricular activities which sometime stand in the way of even the best intentions of parents to preserve their Greek identity.
This fact as much as it is challenge at the same time it serves as an opportunity for Greek day schools to position themselves more prominently in the Greek Australian community context.
But even outside this context Greek day schools have an important role to play.
“The fact that we live in a global community means that it’s very important to be multilingual.
Australian schools unfortunately do not produce multilingual students and that is a failure of the educational system.
Therefore schools such as the Greek day schools have a role to play in trying to establish a multilingual community in education in this country. So the schools remain very relevant,” Ms Vamvakinou highlights.
The relevance of Greek day schools must also be pursued through opening the doors to non-Greek students according to Mrs Vamvakinou.
It is as much a necessity as it should be a choice because by attracting these students the schools’ future and prosperity will be ensured.
“Whenever I would witness a non-Greek student learning Greek, at my children’s school I would always admire and cherish that,” Ms Vamvakinou stressed.
The Educational Coordinator at the General Consulate of Greece in Melbourne, Haralambos Ladopoulos argued that the opening of the Greek day schools to the wider community is very important and should be coupled with a renewed emphasis on Greek education.
“There should be a strengthening of the Greek curriculum not only in terms of the language but more importantly about the Greek civilisation and culture in general,” Mr Ladopoulos said.
He believes that a momentum for Greek day schools exists as the enrolment numbers show especially at the primary level.
“Building from that and by pursuing high academic standards, Greek day schools have nothing to fear for their future.”
As the dynamics of the Greek Australian community are swiftly changing with the passing of generations it is only natural for their priorities and goals to also change.
Such is the provision of education amalgamated with the need to preserve and maintain the Greek heritage.
Although many challenges lay ahead for Greek day schools there is no doubt that they still have a lot to offer.