Teaching Modern Greek at a Tertiary level. Photo: Supplied
Τhe Greek language, the civilization, the one expressed in Greek, the texts that are written in Greek are all those with which the whole civilized world (re)cognizes and distinguishes the Greek people. This is our heritage that is of timeless value. Therefore, the knowledge and usage of the Greek language is the most powerful, most perceptible and widely known characteristic of being a Greek in the Greek diaspora.
Ellinomatheia or otherwise the teaching and learning of the Greek language and culture, is related both to the identity of the Greek diaspora members and the way of thinking. Primary and secondary schools as well as the institutions of tertiary education perform a very important task – and that is the teaching of a communication tool, that of the Greek language and the teaching of the Greek culture, enabling through this way the Greeks of the diaspora – in whichever generation they belong to – the ability to express their identity in any way, either through language, through traditions, morals and customs, or through history. Therefore, teachers become the ‘apostles’ of our language and culture.
It is up to us not to learn the Greek language, it is up to us not to dance Greek dances, but it is not up to us, as Greeks of the diaspora, to deny our Greek identity, and by Greek identity we mean Greek language, Greek tradition and Greek history, but also as foreigners we cannot deny the educational power that Greek Studies have globally.
But which are the actual characteristics of ellinomatheia abroad? ‘Ellinomatheia outside the borders of Greece is multifaceted since it consists of an educational function with multiple aspects. Taking into account where it is taught (Primary and Secondary public schools, Greek Orthodox schools, evening schools of the Church and the Greek Community, private Greek tutoring centers, public educational organizations, Institutions of Tertiary Education, etc.), from whom it is taught (primary school teachers, high school teachers, academics, teachers on secondment, etc.), to whom it is taught (to children, school students, students of tertiary education or Greek-Australians of second, third or fourth generation or tο foreigners) and last but not least, how it is taught (through a textbook or not, face to face or remotely, etc.). All the Programs of Modern Greek Studies in tertiary education constitute the top of the educational pyramid of learning Greek. The programs are the ones that either continue and complete the journey of teaching and learning Greek at primary and secondary school levels or even are the ones which offer a complete curriculum/program of Greek studies within two or three years.
The updates in the academic curriculums constitute a transparent and common process to meet current needs. For instance, in 2020, universities were called to meet the challenging circumstances caused by the current pandemic, to solve any issues – that perhaps could have already existed – and at the same time plan for their future. Consequently, most – if not all – Modern Greek Studies programs have embarked on a race to continue, on the one hand, being part of the Academic Curriculum and, on the other hand, to respond to the rapid educational evolution (e.g., synchronous, asynchronous teaching). At this point, it is worth mentioning that most of the language programs of the universities are currently in the same position.
An example is the Program of Modern Greek Studies of Macquarie University. Macquarie University decided that it will be offered as a Minor in 2021. I am still confident that the transformation that Macquarie University needed to undertake in different areas helps to secure the future sustainability of the Modern Greek Studies Program. This decision may be characterised as a downgrade. However, education is a constant ever-evolving organization in which difficulties are indicative of a new educational era and they trigger mandatory changes, which lead to progress. In 2020, the Program of Modern Greek Studies of Macquarie University developed new research pathways and teaching and learning methods of Greek language as a foreign/ second language. More specifically, it developed and implemented a successful research project titled ‘Culture and Modern Greek Language Courses for foreign staff in Aged Care facilities’ with a short-term goal of teaching the Greek language and culture to the foreign language speaking staff of St Basil’s Greek nursing home in New South Wales and with a long-term goal of a more efficient communication between the Greek speaking residents of the facility and the non-Greek speaking staff members. In this case, the academic research goes beyond the boundaries of the university and works with the community. The example of the Program of Modern Greek Studies of Macquarie University proves that ellinomatheia should have high educational standards because the Greek Community currently has high demands.
A question at the moment is: What is the future of Greek programs? But the main question to all stakeholders (Greek Community, teaching staff, faculty of the university, administration of the university, students) should be about the present, because in order to set a goal we must evaluate the current situation in order to be properly organised for the future. Therefore, the most vital thing at the moment is to continue offering Modern Greek courses at a tertiary level. To put it in another way, the priority is to keep Greek programs running at universities. Should Greek programs be removed from the curriculum of institutions offering tertiary education, then the academic pyramid of teaching and learning Greek language and culture (ellinomatheia) will be left as a pyramid without a top. In every pyramid form, each step/level serves a purpose. For example, the teaching of grammar in primary school is done in a different way and rhythm than the way it is taught in University.
Consequently, the preservation of the Greek language in the Greek Community (Greek diaspora) is of the highest national importance. The teaching of the Greek language and culture should be maintained in the institutions of tertiary education.
Dr Patricia Koromvokis is a Lecturer in Modern Greek Studies from the Faculty of Arts at Macquarie University.