London, August 7, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Thanasis Gavos
The Greek speaking community in the United Kingdom has embarked on a coordinated campaign to save the A-level exams in modern Greek.
Cypriots and Greeks, as well as many Philhellenes, were put on alert a few months ago when Edexcel, the examination board, warned that due to new regulation put in place by the Department for Education they would be unable to continue offering GCSE and A-level exams in a series of foreign languages after 2017, including modern Greek. The same warning has been issued by other awarding bodies regarding other foreign languages.
In practice Edexcel was inviting anyone concerned to take up the battle with the government in order for more money to be pledged for this kind of exams, as the main problem seemed to be the lack of expert teachers who could oversee the stricter new examination material.
The Greek Cypriot community, one of the best organised in the UK in terms of schooling and foreign community education, wasted no time at all, energising a number of friends in high places.
Members of Parliament for north London constituencies, who happen to mainly be of the ruling Conservative Party, were quick to highlight the problem and bring it to the attention of the relevant Department, even mediating for an appointment between representatives of UK Cypriot education bodies and the Education Minister Nick Gibb.
The Greek side is believed to have made two particularly strong arguments for the retention on the Greek A-level exams. The first one relates to the unique historical and cultural importance of the Greek language. The second stresses the importance of the examination for the cohesion and continuity of the populous and at least seven decade long Cypriot and Greek community in the UK.
Many children of Greek families in the UK, third or even fourth generation Greeks, consider learning how to read, write and speak their ancestors’ language as a vital way to keep in direct touch with their roots. The fact that they could pick Greek as one of the A-level qualifications in order to pursue a university education was seen as the extra incentive that made their choice undoubtedly worthwhile.
The intense lobbying by the community seems to be gradually paying off, although the final outcome is still very much uncertain. Responding to a letter by David Burrowes MP Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, stated that the government is “committed to securing the future of community language qualifications.”
In separate letters, addressed to north London MPs Mike Freer and Matthew Offord, Minister Gibb added that the Secretary had asked the examination bodies to work with the relevant authorities in order to find a solution; should that fail, the Education Secretary would begin consultations in order to find other ways of keeping Greek and other foreign languages’ exams.
Another weapon in the Greek community’s arsenal of arguments is the impressive number of almost 8,500 signatories that have put their name under an online petition to save the A-level exams in modern Greek.
UK Cypriot officials say they are optimistic and proud of the community’s reflexes, as it was challenged to flex its muscles and it has not been found wanting.