It’s Gangnam Style to have dershanes

It’s Gangnam Style to have dershanes

Have you read Murakami’s 1Q84? One of the main characters of the novel, Tengo, is a cram school math teacher by day and a wannabe novelist by night. I did not get the feeling that he hates what he does for a living. Yet nowadays, that is the ongoing debate in Turkey. The government says they would like to phase out dershanes and reinvent them as private schools. This is a big ongoing debate without any information around it. First of all, the terms for the transition from dershanes into private schools are nowhere to be found. Secondly, the government is advancing its proposal as part of an education reform package, of which the details are yet to be seen. So the debate continues without information being exchanged between the government and the public. This is typical for political debates, I guess - a lot of noise but no content whatsoever.

Let me explain what I see globally. Wherever there is a nationwide entrance examination, to enter university or high school, there are private education institutions to prepare kids for these exams. It is in our genes, I presume: Whenever there is a demand for something, there is someone around to meet supply. So we have dershanes in Turkey. The more crucial the exam is for a child’s future, the more parents are ready to spend money on private tutoring. Similar institutions are called hogwans in Korea, Jukus or yokobinos in Japan, buxiban in China and preparatory schools in the USA. These are cram schools all around the world. In Turkey, the government is now saying it wants to shut them down. Why? It is still trying to come up with a coherent plan to improve the schooling system. This entails phasing out the private dershane system to make education more equal. It doesn’t really sound wrong when you put it like that. The country really needs a proper education reform.

Now, is there any precedent for closing down cram schools? Yes, it happened in South Korea in 1980. The reason was the high burden of private tutoring on family’s budgets. It was a rather egalitarian thought. President at that time, President Chun of Korea seems to have been concerned for the welfare of his citizens and decided to ban hogwans. General Chun Doo-hwan was the President of Korea between 1979 and 1988. He was also an unelected military dictator between 1979 and 1980 and later became the fifth president of the country. There are negative connotations attached to the banning of hogwans, I must add. But even then, the ban was initiated along with the introduction of a strong student loan system. The student loan system was designed to help more kids enter university and paved the way for private universities to flourish. So that at least was an egalitarian move. What happened to the ban? The ban was found unconstitutional in 1999. Also, the president of a major University lost his job when it was discovered that his children were secretly taking private lessons at the time. It is in our genes as humans beings: we want our kids to succeed, even if it means paying more money or taking on the burden of risk. That’s altruistic behavior for you.

That was in 1999. Today, the hogwons are mostly found in the Gangnam-gu. The upscale district houses 6000 of the 25,000 institutions now operating in Korea. So you might say that it is “Gangnam style” to have private tutoring.

Even if you have the best schools in the World, you will still have dershanes as long as there are competitive entrance exams for university. And competitive examinations are the best egalitarian mechanism you can get if seats in your universities are limited. At the moment, only 40% of university-aged students can be placed in Turkey’s universities. Thanks to General Chun’s student loan system, the same figure is around 70 % in Korea. We still have quite a ways to go on that one. The Koreans also still have a fierce debate about whether or not to close down the hogwans. I don’t think this debate will be settled anytime soon.