Turkey’s education system yet again in an utter mess

Turkey’s education system yet again in an utter mess

Unsurprisingly, the 2017-18 academic year began full of unresolved problems in the Turkish education system, stemming from both structural deficiencies and politically driven curriculum controversies.

In early August this column examined recent curriculum changes, highlighting more religious substance at the expense of further distancing from the scientific and academic necessities of a modern educational understanding. Back then I concluded that this was just part of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) strategy to further undermine the secular social order in Turkey by breeding a more conservative generation.

The reason we are revisiting this issue now is the sudden, unexpected removal of the Transition from Primary to Secondary Education (TEOG) exam, which was only put in place by the current government in 2013. Each year around 1.2 million students enter this exam in order to be placed in various high schools, in accordance with their results and the quotas of the schools.

Amid concerns that their children could be placed in vocational religious or imam-hatip schools if they perform poorly in the exam, families have been funneling money to private instructors and special schools in order to secure a credible high-school. As soon as the TEOG system was introduced in 2013 education experts and opposition parties raised criticisms, voicing concern that it would turn children into little more than “racehorses” and saying it would only result in mushrooming imam-hatip schools. Both concerns have been proven right in subsequent years.

However, the tendency of many families to send their children to private colleges in order to escape mandatory placements in religious-focused schools has led to a big rise in the number of private school students. Families who cannot afford private colleges looked for other ways, registering their children in open high-schools instead of imam-hatips. In just the last year, the number of children registered in open high-schools increased by 65 percent compared to 2015.

Education Minister İsmet Yılmaz announced the decision that TEOG would be lifted on Sept. 19, after reporters found him chatting with some taxi drivers at a cab stand in Ankara. He only said his ministry was “working on this issue.”

So millions of families, Education Ministry officials, education experts and thousands of state and private high-schools are left in confusion, as there is currently no system in place for the transition from secondary education to high-schools.

Another dimension about this oddity is how this issue flared up in the first place. The question emerged after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan voiced his unease with the TEOG exam in an interview with a pro-government news station on Sept. 15. Such a critical decision on the education system has thus apparently been taken without any preparation on how the TEOG would be replaced, and without any consultations with education experts on how a better system could be introduced.

The views and statements of the president of any country are always important and need to be well heard. But taking action without proper consultations and preparations will ultimately only render the elected government and ministers pointless.

This way of governance – as seen in this single example - promises nothing other than an utter mess across the country.