Inequality is the only problem in Turkish education

Inequality is the only problem in Turkish education

There is only one problem in the Turkish education system; all other problems are sub-titles of this single problem: Inequality.

Education is the place where all the nationwide inequalities experienced in every walk of life start, and where they are reproduced every year.

This inequality issue is not only a present-day issue either; it has existed from the beginning.   
In the first years of the republic, access to education was out of the question for the majority of the population. Those who did not go to school were obviously underprivileged.

Turkey was not able to reach 100 percent schooling in primary education until the 1980s. Meanwhile, inequality started changing its dimensions. When access to schools increased, inequality in education standards became more prominent. We still have problems accessing education at the high school level; we still cannot send our entire population to high school.

Equality in education ideally means that inequality does not exceed 20 percent. By this I mean that if the best students in the same class can receive a score of 100 in an exam, then the worst should not get any lower than 80.

Students of a school in the same grade, let’s say 8th grade, should have only this difference between them.

This difference of 20 percent should be present in all schools and all students nationwide.

This is a highly utopic target for Turkey, since the best student who gets a 100 and the worst student who gets a zero stand side by side in our classes.

Targeting 20 percent requires a major change of view in educational topics in Turkey. This would require a thorough review of all paradigms concerning the education system and its organization from top to bottom. 

From the teacher competency to its contents, to the cancelation of certain redundant subjects; from what we spend on education to the private sector’s contribution to this; all of these topics that we speak of as “education issues” are actually sub-titles of this inequality issue, including examination systems and excessive centralization.

Continue creating the elite

There are many things to be said about all the past governments of Turkey, but it is the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) government that demands the most. This is because in its political discourse, it is the AKP that complains the most about the elites, the oligarchy and the fact that a “small minority of society has governed the majority without respecting its values.”

However, they have done nothing to decrease the effects of elitism in education, which is actually the basic mechanism that recreates the “elite segment.” 

This was the situation 13 years ago when the AKP took power. Today, it is the same.

Every year, out of the roughly 1 million students who start school, only 100,000 graduate from high school 12 years later at a level that can compete with their Western peers. Some 250,000-300,000 graduate high school 12 years later with an education that we can call “good enough for Turkey,” but not at all “good” by international standards. The remaining 600,000-650,000 receive a pretty bad education or drop out. 

The parents of the top 100,000 are mostly university graduates, in a sense, members of the “elite segment.” The bottom 600,000–650,000, on the other hand, come from poor and uneducated households.

Our education system is reproducing elitism every year, as well as low-income earners.

Well, what is the remedy? The solution is not to reduce or destroy the top 100,000. First, it is to raise the 250-300,000 who are right behind to the level of the first 100,000; then, it is to carry everybody to the top level and bring the difference between the best and the worst to the 20 percent level. We should discuss education policies not over religion or Ottoman classes, but from here: How equal or unequal is it?