Teaching Modern Greek: Hope Springs Eternal

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The future of Modern Greek at Macquarie University may still be under threat but in a recent media release put out by the Macquarie Greek Studies Foundation, it is apparent that discussions with the University are still continuing in the spirit of the “harmonious partnership” that has prevailed for almost 40 years.

A final decision is expected to be made by the middle of 2024.

Concerns about the fate of the highly-regarded language course at Macquarie University had led to a spate of representations and submissions by supporters of the language course, led by the Foundation, as well as an online petition for the retention of Modern Greek, instigated by the Greek Student Association (MUGA) in partnership with The Greek Herald which has secured up to now more than 2,500 signatures.

On being informed at the end of the last semester that the University was contemplating the discontinuance of the five languages, including Modern Greek, the Foundation responded immediately to the University’s discussion paper with a lengthy written submission and also sought face-to-face meetings and discussions with the Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts.

The campaign has been actively supported by many prominent figures within the Greek-Australian and wider community, including His Eminence Archbishop Makarios, the NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, the Hon Steve Kamper, the NSW Minister for Industrial Relations,  the Hon Sophie Cotsis, the Greek Consul General in Sydney, Ioannis Mallikourtis, Federal Members of Parliament, Steve Georganas  and David Smith, as well as the Greek Orthodox Community organisations of Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

Proud Greek Australian Cabinet Ministers Steve Kamper, Courtney Houssos and Sophie Cotsis with NSW Premier Chris Minns

Minister Kamper wrote to the University, noting that language studies enrich the lives of students by offering new perspectives, and added:

“As Minister for Multiculturalism, I strongly support the continuation of modern language studies at a tertiary level.  Ensuring our multiculturalism is as comprehensive as it can be and, where possible, is founded on rigorous and well-guided study bolsters Sydney’s position as a truly global multicultural city.”

Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, George Kotsiras (Photo credit: Greek News Agency)

The Greek Government, which also supports the teaching of Modern Greek abroad, was no less vociferous.  The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic, George Kotsiras, sent a letter to the University underlining the “importance of maintaining the Greek language and safeguarding cultural heritage of Hellenism in Australia”.

Mr Kotsiras added that in addition to the Macquarie University's Modern Greek Studies program’s “undeniable contribution” to maintaining the links of the Greek diaspora with Greece, it also serves to strengthen diplomatic and cultural ties between the two countries.

Letters of support were also sent by the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic, Ioannis Chrysoulakis, and the General Secretariat for Higher Education of the Greek Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs and Sports,  Odysseas-Ioannis Zoras,

Discussions with the University are continuing. As a result, the Modern Greek Program remains unchanged, and new enrolments are taking place for the 2024 academic year as well as all other scheduled academic and outreach activities.  Importantly, Macquarie University will continue to serve as the only certified Examination Centre in NSW for the Certificate of Attainment in the Greek Language.

Significant events are already planned for 2024.

On 27-28 January 2024 a prestigious online summit on the Greek language, titled Modern Practices in the Teaching of Greek as a Second/Foreign Language, will be held in an inspired collaborative effort between Macquarie University, the University of Western Macedonia and the Greek Consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Dr Patricia Koromvokis (photo credit: Macquarie University/Masaki Maeda Photography)

Dr. Patricia Koromvokis, lecturer and director of the Program of Modern Greek Studies at Macquarie University, explained that the collaboration is aimed to reform and modernise the learning and teaching of Greek language in the diaspora, so that it can always be aligned with the contemporary language needs of students and the urgent need for professional development of the teachers.

The conference is open to academics, teachers, PhD students, and postgraduate students in areas relating to the Greek language; graduates of education studies and Greek philology; and those who play a role in teaching Greek as a second or additional language. There will be a particular focus on teaching Greek in Greek-speaking schools and those which teach culturally diverse groups of students.

Some of the key areas include contemporary practices and approaches for teaching Greek, intercultural skills and strategies, literacies of teaching Greek and the value and universal contribution of the Greek language and Greek culture.

On Friday 2 February 2024, Macquarie University will again be the focus of attention with the staging at the Arts Precinct of the important Awards Ceremony for the Certificates of Attainment in the Greek Language.

The 2023 awards were well attended with 170 people in attendance, including the Certificate recipients with their families, Greek language teachers and Heads of Languages of NSW schools and representatives of community organisations, and the Greek community media.

(Image credit: Greece 123)

Both events also coincide with the celebration of the International Day of the Greek Language and are due to the incredible work of many committed educators led by the indomitable Dr. Patricia Koromvokis.

As the eminent historian Professor Anastasios Tamis has written in his recent book, The Aegis of Hellas: The Continuing Vigour of Philhellenism (Hellenic Parliament Foundation, 2022):

“The basic element in perpetuating in the world the lofty role of Greek life, ideas, and letters, past and present, and the mechanism of the idealisation of Hellas amongst academics, scholars, writers, philosophers, theologians, and artists has been the Greek language.”

According to Tamis, Greek is the only “extant Hellenic language of the Western World” that is currently known and used and Greek communities in the diaspora, including Australia, are strongly committed to maintaining their ethno-linguistic identity.

With that in mind, and noting that the Greek language, history, and culture have been taught successfully at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels at Macquarie University for almost four decades, it is hoped that the Greek language, with its rich history and profound influence, will continue to be taught at one of Sydney's premier tertiary institutions.

A culturally linguistic hope that springs eternal.

George Vardas is the Arts & Culture Editor of Greek City Times.  He is also a recently appointed member of the Multicultural NSW Advisory Board.

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