Turkey needs empowered teachers for a quality education
Many studies show that teachers have a tremendous impact on students’ well-being and academic achievement. When children have a teacher at school with whom they can connect and share their feelings, they feel a greater sense of belonging to the school and their social, emotional and academic development is positively affected.
In many communities, families trust teachers more than they trust the education system. But what about how teachers feel? Do they trust the education system? How much of a say do they have in their practice? Do they feel supported? Do they feel empowered? These questions are generally forgotten. We tend to focus so much on teachers’ performance that we forget about their well-being. But various studies show that in order for teachers to teach effectively, they need to feel supported and empowered. As a country, Turkey must start focusing more on these issues.
It is crucial for teachers to have a say in their practice, especially in areas such as curriculum, assessment and evaluation, which should not be dictated solely by bureaucracy.
However, PISA 2015 data shows that teachers in Turkey have very little to no say in the educational content they teach in class. Nor do they have any input in the way they assess and evaluate their students. Teachers are able to influence a mere 5 percent of the curriculum, while the government controls 77 percent.
These ratios are reversed in the U.K., where teachers influence 71 percent of the curriculum and the government only 5 percent. In Britain, Estonia and Finland, teachers take a great deal of initiative to prepare the curriculums and the educational content they teach in class. Allowing teachers a reasonable degree of creative control ensures that all the students’ needs, regardless of their diverse backgrounds, are met because teachers know their students’ needs best and every need is different from the next. It is therefore very important to give more creative control to teachers when it comes to educational content.
Education policies should be designed in partnership with teachers, not for them. This increases the success and effectiveness of policies.
Last year the Turkish government changed the curriculums for all school grades. The Education Ministry announced the revised curriculums in February, asking for feedback from stakeholders - and particularly from teachers. However, for education policy processes to be truly participatory, teachers from all backgrounds should be involved at every stage of the design process, and not just asked to provide feedback at the end.
Unfortunately, that is usually how education policies are drafted in Turkey. The government formulates everything in a very obscure way and then asks teachers for their feedback. This should change and education policies should be crafted in partnership with teachers. In order for policies to be implemented correctly and made effective in the classroom, teachers should be actively engaged in the policy-making process.
Studies show teachers need peer support and opportunities for professional development in order to feel empowered. Evidence from TALIS 2008 show that teachers learn most from their peers professionally, and that efforts towards enhancing peer networks and support groups among teachers are valuable.
There are a few good examples of such efforts in Turkey. One of them is the annual Good Practices in Education Conference organized by the Education Reform Initiative. This conference brings together about 1,000 educators each year to share their work experiences with each other.
Some other good examples are evident across the world. One of them is STIR education, which reached about 25,000 teachers in India and Uganda, and a global network called Teach for All. These networks are important as they provide teachers with resources, peer support and connection opportunities, which further their empowerment.
Turkey needs strong, empowered teachers. The journey to having empowered teachers should start with allowing them to have creative control in their practice, engaging them in policy-making and supporting them through different peer networks. Only then can we start dreaming about quality education in schools.
** Yeliz Düşkün is a policy analyst and Didem Aksoy is a researcher at the Education Reform Initiative.