Saturday, 20 December 2008

A Systems insight into the Athens riots

I grew up in a suburb of Athens, in its not so privileged west side. And although I am not a particularly nostalgic type I do follow with some interest the Greek news, particularly now that the fragile socio-political situation seems at the end of its tether. And to most, this violent eruption of youth wrath, manifested in red paint, rocks and firebombs thrown against an evidently poorly skilled, outdated in design and heavy-handed mechanism of public order may seem bizarre, even unfounded. But my own memory is still sharp and here's my interpretation of why this happens.


Recalling my own experiences from the late eighties, adolescence in Greece was not easy – and not a lot have changed since then. The poorly implemented, sterile state school curriculum tries to engage pupils in dry and uninteresting subjects, often heavily influenced by the most unimaginable of stakeholders (e.g. the Greek Orthodox Church). Not only does this fail to develop creative learners, but also drives even the most competent of the pupils, and primarily their parents, to complement their tuition with private supportive classes.


I was personally lucky to attend schools with a few inspiring teachers who were doing their best within their limitations to provide us with quality education, and I will always be grateful for this, but the majority of the Greek kids aren't. Most teenagers in Greece will spend six to eight hours per day at the state school, two to three at private, complementary tuition of key subjects and a lot of those will allocate other as much in learning at least one foreign language at the same time – in private language schools of course. Most of those kids will spend their weekday working probably harder than their parents. And the weekends, well, they may attend additional music classes to learn to play the piano, or the guitar.


Whether through own initiative, peer, or parental pressure most kids will go through some hard years in preparation for university entry exams, the sort of equivalent of A-Levels. But they have to do it painstakingly, with disproportional effort. The Greek Generation Y, much like my own in the past, spend more time in classrooms and public transport between them, than in learning whilst making the most of their age. And that all would be acceptable, if at the end of it there was a clear vision of an outcome, a promise of good things to come.


But the harsh reality for most twenty-odd year-olds is that they're facing a global recession with an anticipated starting gross income of around £15K - irrespective of gaining a degree or not. Leaving most to pursuit a civil service appointment, similarly underpaid, but at least with less pressure, ample vacation leave and secure pension package. The disproportionately large Greek civil service sector, serving throughout the life of the modern Greek state some short-sighted political interests (i.e. appointments in exchange for votes) will become the envy of another, soon waisted generation.


Ironically this week we discussed with my postgraduate students in my introduction to systems module how the loss of the vision is by definition a compromise of quality. Opportunities for creative growth of the Greek people and their country are lost in poor vision and incompetent politicians' short-lived ambition for re-election and of most grown-ups' obsession for a place in civil service. Islands of meritocracy are merely enough to provide an excuse of a fair system in the eyes of most, where institutionalised corruption forms inherent part of everyday life – from a simple MOT inspection to a planning permission, you learn how the system is flexible.


And to most, as I said in the beginning, this eruption of wrath of the pupil and student youth is gross, mislead, unfounded. They do not understand how the great privilege of those kids currently flooding Athenian and other cities' roads is that their vision is pure and how therefore they can see it all as it should be. Let me make myself clear here, I do not approve of any violence as expression of political will – this is the easy way. Any moron can cover his face and pick up a rock. But our fathers and theirs, and the ones before them, even maybe most of us of the gen X, are now well blinded of how they are responsible for damaging my place of birth and its youth's hope for a brighter future. And it is those kids' right to not aspire to follow us; I am glad every now and then they decide to exercise it...