The biggest failure of the AK Party
İSMET BERKANQuite a few things have changed in Turkey in the 11 years since the end of 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) first came to power. That is except for one thing, which has stayed the same.
That thing is the failure of our education system.
For example, there have been partial advances in our freedom of expression compared to 11 years ago. For example, headscarf-wearing female students were first able to attend university; then they were able to work in public jobs and then work as parliamentary deputies. For example, with 17,000 kilometers of double highways, our network of highways has become busier and safer. For example, the citizen’s access to the healthcare system has become easier and increased. For example, income per capita has increased from $2,000 to over $10,000. For example, home ownership has increased. For example, urbanization has increased.
I am counting those particular changes that have a positive effect on life in a general sense.
Otherwise, there are those who are not happy with some changes - well, more than unhappy, there are those who hate some changes - but their objections are not our topic for the moment.
Despite all these positive changes, the output of the national education system has not changed; it has remained the same. I argue that the failure in this area, even if not totally destroying all the other advancements, is one that will definitely minimize all of them to a major extent.
Look, I took this data from the website of the General Directorate of Productivity of the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology, from the report named “Education,” among the drafts of the “Productivity Strategy and Action Plan.”
In 1997, nearly 80 percent of our population was only able to graduate from elementary school as its entire education. Today this is close to 70 percent.
In 1997, a little bit over 10 percent of our population was able to graduate from middle school. Today the figure is a little below 20 percent.
In 1997, little under 10 percent of our population was a higher education graduate. Today this figure is a little over 10 percent.
These statistics are bound to change in four to six years because the system now includes 12 years of compulsory education. The number of “middle school” graduates will seriously increase, and as the years pass by, this increase will reach meaningful dimensions within the population.
However, our problem is not only restricted to fixing this statistic and turning the flat red line upward. Our problem is how we have confined a large crowd constituting the lowest-educated 70 percent of our population to a poor life.
Involuntarily, our government, which has sentenced seven out of 10 people to this relative poverty, is actually condemning the entire nation to poverty.
The fact that these reports, the ones that I quoted the statistics from, are being drafted are indications that this open truth has started to be recognized. There is also one of the speeches Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered at his party’s Kızılcahamam retreat.
But, unfortunately, the AK Party is at least 11 years late in recognizing this and in offering to this nation the biggest service it could have offered by making real, deep-rooted change. It has treated the nation just the same as previous governments have done. It said, “You are cheap labor; you continue being cheap labor.” It could not promise to the people a better life than their parents had.
I wrote the other day that when the 55-65 age group is compared between Turkey and South Korea from the educational perspective, you can see that in both countries 10 percent of this age group were higher education graduates. In other words, once upon a time the education output of both countries was the same.
However, if you project the same comparison to the 25-34 age group, while in our country graduates of higher education make up 17 percent, in Korea this figure is 65 percent. Well, this is change. Well, this is a major failure. This is what Turkey should have achieved long ago, the last 11 years of which is the responsibility of the AK Party.
İsmet Berkan is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Nov. 5. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.