This is not it
An education reform bill is in Parliament. Or perhaps I should say the “so-called” education reform bill, as it has been termed in the jargon of this lovely country. It is not that the new bill fails to change the system. On the contrary, it would mean radical overhaul. The problem is that this new bill could actually incapacitate Turkey’s desultory education system further. Even the sparse achievements of the existing system could be lost. This would be done under the guise of providing choice to parents. The first four years of education would still be compulsory, but children would get to stay at home for the second four years. Options can have harmful consequences, say experts. The ERG, or Education Reform Initiative, at Istanbul Policy Center concluded the bill “is not increasing compulsory education for 12 years but lowering it to four.” Turkey desperately needs education reform. This is not it.
Let me split the problem into three components. First, Turkey has a young population. The average age is still around 28.5. That is a good thing. With that much potential, Turkey’s European convergence should have been through education and training. Neither the European Union nor our government had the wisdom to design the process accordingly. Secondly, our population has only 6.5 years of schooling on average. Turkey has the youngest population with the poorest education performance among the top 20 economies in the world. That bodes ill for our future. We have a population of middle school dropouts. On top of that, OECD PISA tests show that our students’ academic skills leave much to be desired. Our kids are among the worst around the block, which any decent economist will tell you puts us straight into the middle income trap. Thirdly, Turkey’s female labor force participation ratio is the lowest, even among Muslim majority countries. Only one among four women participates in the workforce. Why? Because of low educational attainment.
The third issue is hit hardest by the new education bill. The bill would give parents the right to choose between sending their daughters to school and arranging distance learning programs from home. This comes at a time when conservative women are for the first time emancipated. For many, the veil has been a ticket to freedom and participation in the labor force. I was recently talking to a conservative lady, herself wearing the veil. She told me about the attitude of conservative fathers. She was expecting the newly well-educated daughters of conservative fathers to reform the minds of their parents. And we will increasingly feel the clash between conservative fathers, who invested heavily in their daughters’ education, and conservative husbands, who don’t want their wives to work because of what they learned from their moms. Old habits die hard. This so-called education reform bill marks a relapse.
This is not the way to increase Turkey’s female labor force participation rate. This is not the way to raise growth perspectives of Turkey. This is not the way to put Turkey among the world’s 10 largest economies. The new bill is not in line with the objective function of this government. This new bill is not the education reform bill that Turkey so desperately needs.