Dr Aristea Kyriakou is an enthusiastic and highly skilled Greek teacher, researcher and academic, who has gained with distinctions a postdoc, a PhD (Onassis Foundation Scholar), an MRes, an MSc and a Bachelors, all in Education Sciences, with expertise in Outdoor Environmental Education, Curriculum Design and School Grounds. She considers herself a European citizen – given that she has lived, worked, and studied in Sweden (Linköping University), Scotland (University of Aberdeen) and Switzerland (Education First) apart from Greece (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). Aristea keeps working at an international level providing insightful, engaging, and inspiring presentations, delivering workshops, giving speeches, and leading and supporting school communities in their journey to use their schoolyards more and more.
What has covid taught us about learning a new language from the comfort of our home?
Covid has taught us that learning a language is possible at home, even in the midst of challenging circumstances; but also: that online learning is not enough. A hundred per cent of my online courses with many students of Greek from our +10K community worldwide, finished our online lessons with the same sense of hope for our meeting in person and for another in-place learning course while engaging in activities that characterize the Greek lifestyle, culture, cuisine, arts, and of course, the Greek nature. There is zero doubt that an abundance of online resources is available out there for learning a language online and learners from all around the world can have access to a plethora of Greek language material. Videos, forums, virtual classrooms, applications, blogs, everything is out there. However, will this ever be enough, and what are we ‘really’ missing? That leads us to the next question.
Where has the body gone? Our senses? What’s the new understanding of ‘learning’ for a learner?
We are really missing the…real! From my international experience as an outdoor educator who has been existentially challenged by the transition to the online environment, I keep being fascinated by the misconception of the following: “to watch” is “to learn”. Well, simply no. Otherwise, everyone would learn everything at all times. Learning is quite a sacred process that the online environments challenge more and more, especially when implying that the notion of experience (an essential component of learning) nearly does not matter. Do we forget how complex we are in a massively larger co-related system, or are we misled towards an oversimplified understanding of learning for other reasons? However foolish, a step outside our home door will always remind us of our brain’s need for stimuli and sensory impressions, of our body’s needs for movement, fresh air and health, and of our spirits’ needs to find out whether indeed ánthropos [in Greek άνθρωπος, human] has etymologically derived from the perception of “one who looks up into the heights” – and I would dare to say it is more possible to find this out by stargazing a clear night sky rather than our…ceilings.
Has Covid caused a “loss of senses”? (Pun intended)
In my opinion, the loss of senses covid has caused is through the acceptance of a more common understanding that learning can take place exclusively online. If we give in to this understanding, I am afraid of what we are going to miss as humanity in the next few years. By principle, we will miss the schools! That is the main reason why I feel it is our responsibility as head teachers, education managers, curriculum designers, teachers, schools, and language institutions, to keep highlighting the dimension of experiential learning, let alone when it happens outdoors. As two of my favourite philosophers/thinkers, Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons put it, to defend schools today would mean, in a sense, reinventing them.
What’s my proposal’s niche?
My take on that matter of reinvention is not limited to theory, but I have been systematically working on it and I am excited to see it now having an apt format and in fact, a name to call this vision too: “Greek and Green”. Basically, ‘Greek and Green’, my education startup, is my in-practice proposal/offer for an ecocentric educational system in which the concept of school is stretched to embrace the great outdoors, and teaching leaves a positive impact on the environment. With an international team of inspiring people accompanying me on this mission, our niche becomes quite clear: the curriculum is designed from scratch to be as dynamic as the environment around it, which is considered actually the 3rd teacher.
Language EcoTourism: A New Concept
The new concept of ‘language eco-tourism’ was proudly introduced at this year Greece’s largest tourism expo, Filoxenia 2022 (Thessaloniki, Greece). This term alone was an excellent reason to develop much more than a short talk with hundreds of tourism agents and based on the feedback I received, I believe, this idea has great potential. Of course, this would be never something I could do alone; to level up this concept, I partnered with an exceptional ecotourism and outdoor activity provider, Vassiliki Koimtzidou, founder of the Finix Adventures, located in one of the most gorgeous virgin mountain areas in Greece, Agrafa mountains. Vasiliki offers a wide range of outdoor activities there, and we scaled it up by creating a place-based curriculum for foreign language teaching purposes, with an ethos of sustainability, principles of outdoor education, experiential activities for unforgettable learning for lifelong learners, and sensitivity to climate change.
My ultimate goal would be to deliver a proposal that combines the advantages of the development of technology, and the comfort of home for language learning, but not as the central core of the learning process. It would be rather a follow-up from our specially designed in-place weekly courses. We open our doors this coming spring, 2023, when we expect the first learners of our programmes to be fully present, learn with our methodology and more than that, create a lifetime experience of living and learning in the natural environment of Greece.