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Education Professor Heads European Union Review of Greek Universities

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reflecting the international reach of the University’s programs and faculty, a professor in The School of Education at St. John’s recently headed a European Union committee appointed to evaluate and recommend ways of strengthening institutions of higher education in Greece.

John Spiridakis, Ph.D., headed the European Union’s External Evaluation Committee (EEC) for Quality Assurance and Accreditation this past fall. His work as an educator and researcher with a strong background in Greek language and culture prompted
the European Union (EU) to invite Spiridakis, professor and graduate coordinator of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at St. John’s, to lead the committee.

The EU formed the committee in association with the Ministry of Education in Greece. It comprised deans, academic chairs, and professors from several American and European universities. Like Spiridakis, they were enlisted for their knowledge of and experience in research-based pedagogy and practice.

The effort was part of the accreditation process for institutions of higher education in the EU’s member states. The committee evaluated strategic “quality assurance” plans developed by education schools at major Greek universities. They examined and made recommendations for invigorating undergraduate and graduate curricula; course syllabi; faculty; course requirements; and student assessments.

We found issues that are quite similar to those of concern to universities in the US,” said Spiridakis, who spent the fall semester with other committee members in the Greek cities of Athens, Ioannina, and Thessaloniki. “There was a clear desire to improve the competence and confidence of students through more effective teaching and field experiences.

Some of the committee’s recommendations, Spiridakis said, evoked current practices in The School of Education at St. John’s. “We have an enviable network of school practicum sites to provide students with field experience,” he said. “That’s one of the secrets behind the success of our TESOL program and its graduates—the variety of rich, on-site experiences led by dynamic administrators and outstanding teacher-mentors.” 

In addition, Spiridakis served on three other European Union committees that reviewed issues such as global and online learning. His working relationship with Europe dates to the 1990s, when he won an EU grant to research bilingual education for insights into improving Greek instruction in private, public, and charter schools. His work has provided benefits for St. John’s—he helped create a study abroad course that will bring education students to Greece this summer.

For Spiridakis, the value of bilingual education is rooted in personal experience. Growing up in Astoria—a largely Greek section of Queens, NY—he attended a Greek after-school program. “I’m a product of those initiatives—and the benefits they offer,” he said.