Are children of newly-arrived migrants snubbing Greek School?

For those brought up in Australia, Greek school was almost like a rite of passage, that’s what most families did & it’s a trend ingrained in many of the next generation

There is a variety of different providers of Greek language courses for school children in Melbourne: Government schools, independent schools, VSL and what many of us have grown up with, the after-hours Greek School sector comprising of community, church-based and private providers. This later sector by far does the heavy lifting in delivering Greek language courses. It is where more than 60% of all students can be found across more than 40 campuses spread throughout Melbourne’s suburbs. However, this sector has experienced a 12% decline in enrolments since the beginning of the decade. The decline is not as marked as that of the government and independent school sectors which have experienced more significant declines but for different reasons. Why should we be concerned when there’s an expectation of gradual attrition in the ranks of Greek language learning with each generation as assimilation takes hold? This long-term steady decline is perceived as logical and the accepted wisdom of the day. Greek language enrolments peaked in the 1980s and there’s been a steady decline ever since. Data from the Australian Federation of Ethnic Schools Associations which monitors such enrolments show that there has been a 12% decline in the enrolments of after-hours providers from 2011 to 2017.

Why the concern on what’s attributed as a natural state of affairs. There is a concern because during this same time period, which overlaps with the economic crisis in Greece, around 1000 school-age children from Greece and Cyprus have arrived in the last decade that could have theoretically bolstered these numbers or at least severely restricted the decline. More specifically, ABS data from the 2016 census show that 959 children of 18 years old and under arrived in Australia between August 2015 to August 2016. Two things are happening here. Firstly the attrition rate of local Greek-Australian students is much higher than 12% and this serious issue requires both a separate discussion and examination. To a large extent it is a quality and early years issue but I won’t stray from the topic. Secondly, a large proportion of newly-arrived overseas Greek-speaking students are not attending any form of Greek language tuition. I dare say that this number could be as high as 40%, that’s almost 400 students. Although such data is not collected or disseminated by school authorities, I feel it isn’t too far of the mark since we have a very good idea where the enrolled students are located. For a start over 200 are at the Greek Community of Melbourne’s GPL (Greek as a Primary Language) campuses. Significant numbers can be found at independent schools like Oakleigh Grammar, St Johns College and Alphington Grammar, government schools like South Oakleigh Secondary College, while the remaining are scattered amongst other providers. One can speculate on the reasons why these students are not attending. The first priority of migrant families arriving in Australia is to find a home, find employment and organize schooling for their children. This process rarely goes smoothly and often takes quite some time, in many cases even years, before things settle down. Students on their part, are focused on acclimatizing to their new school environment, learning English and developing friendship circles. Attending Greek School can be considered as an optional extra, a luxury, once all these life necessities are put into place. For younger children in a very short period of time, English becomes their dominant language. It is very easy for one’s oral and written Greek communication skills to fade away without regular school attendance. Other reasons include ill-informed parental attitudes (they already speak Greek, I want them to focus on learning English) or an unpreparedness to allocate the necessary time and commitment to take their children to a Greek School usually after hours. It’s important that as a community we reach out to these families and encourage their children’s participation. For those of us brought up in Australia, Greek school was almost like a rite of passage, that’s what most families did and it’s a trend ingrained in many of the next generation. That’s why Modern Greek has one of the highest participation rates as a community language despite students being essentially third generation going into fourth. The benefits of language learning in early years education are well known, everyone should be encouraged to take up this option when there’s a window of opportunity.

After Hours Greek Language Enrolments
Year Total Enrolled
2011 7225
2017 6384
Variation -841 (-12%)