2015 | Dec
The majority of families in almost every OECD country choose public primary and secondary education for their children. With the exception of some countries such as Australia, Mexico and Chile, where families contribute extensively in private education, primarily in the form of tuitions, such expenses in other countries do not exceed 10% (OECD 2013). In Greece, following the crisis, there is a drop in the number of students in private schools, with enrolments at around 6%. This percentage is relatively higher in primary education, especially kindergarten, and gradually decreases in secondary education (ΕΛΣΤΑΤ 2012). These numbers represent the current state of private education in Athens and the wider Metropolitan Area of the Capital, as this sector features a concentration in the large urban centres of the country, with approximately 80% of private schools located in Athens and Thessaloniki. Actually, over 50% of the total student population of private schools and of such school units is currently concentrated in Attica (Υπουργείο Παιδείας και Θρησκευμάτων 2012).
Despite the relatively small size of the Greek entire education system, private education is a privileged area where one can study the social formation of educational strategies during the post-dictatorial period, as these are reflected and implemented in the choice of school. Although empirical data on private education in Greece are limited, we can see that some parts thereof function as social mediators for the social reproduction of processes of upper and middle class groups (and for the social mobility of lower class groups). The emergence of private education as a social space, according to Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of field (1995) allows a privileged sociological insight into the variations and hierarchies prevailing in private institutions, with a primary distinction between public and private education.
Thus, focusing on secondary education, we note that the families who choose to educate their children in private educational institutions are significantly different from those following the public system, as they usually possess a privileged position in society and a significant accumulation of different capital forms (both economic and cultural). These are families where parents are, primarily, freelancers, pursuing scientific and administration professions, with a high educational level, high income, sometimes with great wealth (e.g. real estate, stocks, bonds), which consume a significant portion of their income for cultural goods (e.g. cinema, theatre, museums and books) (Valassi 2009).
Apart from the divide between private and public schools, there is also a divide separating the elite private schools from the other private (and, of course, public) schools, thus establishing a clear social boundary. In these schools, there is an over-representation of the higher professional categories with a relatively small specific weight in the economically active population of Athens, such as self employed professionals (architects, engineers, lawyers, doctors), industrialists and entrepreneurs, senior public and private sector executives, academics and politicians. This goes parallel to the extremely high percentage of parents with a very high educational capital (the percentage of university graduates reaches 80%) (Βαλάση 2012).
Studying the socio-economic features of families whose children study in such private schools helps us see the social advantage of these families and the educational and social networks in which they belong, which ensure social reproduction through continuous social interaction among peers, and entails to some extent spatial proximity. An interesting aspect is the residential area as a sign of social status, which also provides indirect information on the income and lifestyle of these families. Thus, 51% of the families of children studying in elite private schools in Athens reside in areas traditionally hosting upper and middle classes, such as Paleo Psychiko, Filothei, Kolonaki, Ekali, Kifissia, Voula – Vouliagmeni, Maroussi, while 8% of these students reside in suburbs of the new middle class (Pallini, Gerakas, Koropi) (Βαλάση 2012).
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