(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 2 of a four-part series, “Gripes about Greece,” looking at the reality behind the myth of Greece as the ideal expat destination. Pt. 2 looks at education and and healthcare in Greece. These posts are curated from Christina’s conversations and personal experiences, research and from monitoring expat social media platforms. You can jump to Pt. 1 here, to Pt. 3 here or Pt. 4 here.)
The Hellenic Republic (aka Greece) is alluring to a good number of would-be expats for a variety of reasons, many of which relate to the much-discussed Mediterranean lifestyle. However, as with anything, there are downsides to life in Greece for both locals and expats and these shouldn’t be ignored by those looking into moving here.
Knowledge is power, so be sure to educate yourself about the potential pitfalls to see if they are manageable for you and yours.
In these posts, we are doing a deep-dive past the fresh local produce and delicious Greek wine, past the easy weekend trips to lovely little islands and the late-night clubbing by the sea, and we are taking a closer look at the things which could bring you serious headaches and frustration if you are unprepared or unable to cope.
In “Gripes about Greece, Pt. 1,” I covered common expat complaints related to the topics of employment, cost of living and quality of life in Greece. In this post, I am going to look at common concerns pertaining to education and healthcare in Greece.
(Editor’s note: Funding for healthcare and education were cut after the Greek economy contracted dramatically during the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008.)
Numerous expats are keen for their children to attend public (state) school in Greece. Some have a Greek spouse and bilingual children and others are eager to raise bilingual kids and Greek school is, of course, one way to achieve that. Some hope that belonging to a neighborhood school will help them integrate into the community. While in many countries, the (free) local public education is perfectly acceptable, here it can be problematic in ways which are surprising to newcomers.
The Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs funds and governs public (state) education at all grade levels – elementary and secondary. The curriculum is peppered with archaic content and teaching methods are often antiquated, with educators most often relying on rote memorization and chalk and talk. Critical thinking skills, media literacy, emotional intelligence activities, collaborative learning experiences and the arts are ignored completely or almost completely in many of the nation’s public schools.
Additionally, the quality of teaching and textbooks are simply not adequate for the vast majority of students. As a result, during the last few decades, a shameful system has flourished – of “parallel education centers” (known as frontistiria) and these can be found in nearly every neighborhood.
This is all big business – private classes, i.e., private tuition for countless Greek students. These courses are designed to prepare students for the famously rigid and unrealistically-challenging college entrance exams. The public (state) school teachers who receive little to no assessment or formal feedback are also paid famously low salaries, so many end up privately tutoring their school students in the evening or weekend hours.
This has, of course, created a terrible situation which a European Commission report from a few years back termed as one of “perverse incentives.” Not only does this phenomenon make the “free” public school education not actually free, but it means that many, many Greek students go to school during the day and then spend evenings or Saturdays at their local frontistirio. Then of course they have homework for both.
Kids with black circles under their eyes, rightfully complaining about not having enough time to see their friends or pursue their hobbies or favorite sports …
According to the Office of European Cooperation and Development, Greek educational spending per student is lower than the EU average at both the elementary and secondary levels – and it shows. In 2014, a league chart compiled for London-based publisher Pearson plc found Greece to have the worst educational system in the European Union. Things have not improved since then.
Staff shortages, crumbling facilities and a general lack of government interest in the matter still very much plague the field of education. Numerous governments over the years have been accused of pushing laws and regulations which degrade public education and benefit private schools and universities.
There are many good private school options as well as some decent private university options, especially in the bigger cities. It should be noted, however, that things can get very expensive for a family with one or more children in such an educational institution, especially if one is collecting a Greek salary. However, there are numerous expats whose multinational companies pay salaries which will cover the fees. If you are interested in reading more about the private international schools of Greece, check out this post.
Much like public education, public healthcare in Greece has seen better days. Expenditure per capita went down by nearly 30 percent in the early days of the economic crisis, between 2009 and 2011. The country’s universal healthcare system ranked 29th out of 35 European countries in 2018.
Most public medical facilities range from shabby to crumbling and though some incredible doctors can be found in the system, there are many others who are – at best – indifferent. Some unfortunately require a fakelaki (aka ” a little envelope” aka an unofficial payment) in order to see, treat or operate on a patient in a timely fashion, or to spend more time on a challenging case.
There is little to no oversight, so luck of the draw plays a bigger role in health outcomes than it should. I know people who have been well served by the public healthcare system and others who have been failed horribly, including my own (Greek) grandmother.
Similar to the case with public education, numerous private healthcare options exist and many are of a high standard. Residents can obtain private health insurance and not have to worry about access and standard of care in most cases.
The main criticism of private healthcare in Greece is that it really shouldn’t exist because people can’t opt out of the national health insurance. Those who buy private policies are essentially paying double for healthcare. So, why do so many choose to double pay? Well, for all the reasons listed above as being the main problems with the existing public system. A private policy is not affordable for many people earning lower Greek salaries, but a good number with average or higher incomes now purchase private health insurance for their whole family.
People with average local incomes certainly have to tighten their belts in order to do so, but those with higher local or foreign incomes will not feel much of a burden.
A second common criticism of the private health system is that because so many who use private healthcare have an insurance policy (individual and workplace policies are common), the healthcare providers seem to go a bit wild prescribing tests and treatments. Diagnostic tests happen a bit too often and surgeries are all too often suggested at the drop of a hat.
Still, there is a generally high standard of care in the private sector, so much so that Greece has even become a destination for “medical travelers.” Prices are lower for many procedures and treatments than they are in many other countries, so a good number of people travel here for fertility treatments, orthopedic rehabilitation, cosmetic surgery and so on.
Stay tuned for the next installment of “Gripes about Greece” in which I will cover other important topics such as bureaucracy, civic issues, environmental problems and the clashing of worldviews!
About the author:
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.
You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.
You can see more of her posts here.
See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here.
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece.