Will Turkey be able to open schools by mid-February?
Turkey immediately shut down its primary and high schools, as well as private and state universities, on March 13, 2020, just a few days after the first coronavirus case was spotted in the country.
Not long after, the Education Ministry launched an online education model supported by three special TV channels belonging to the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). The system has been recently improved, but there are structural and economic problems that prevent the system from succeeding completely. Plus, children who have been away from school for around a year are psychologically losing proper educational discipline.
The 2019-2020 education year ended in June amid hopes that around 18 million students and 1 million teachers could return to the classroom in early September. The 2020-2021 education year duly began physically on Sept. 21 for certain classes, including the first, eighth and 12th grades.
Turkey had observed a gradual decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases in July and August, but a surge in the spread of the virus at the end of August prevented the government from opening schools for all students.
Unfortunately, the exponential increase of new cases in September, October and early November forced the government to impose harsher measures across the country, including shutting down schools as well as restaurants, cafés, bars and many other public spaces. Then, on Nov. 17, the cabinet announced new restrictions and imposed weekend and half-day curfews.
With the government seeming to have a better handle on the coronavirus, the million-dollar question is whether schools will open on Feb. 15, when the second semester is set to commence.
In fact, students, their parents, their teachers and, most importantly, Education Minister Ziya Selçuk want to resume physical education after a year of distance learning which they believe has had a negative impact on the quality of education. Selçuk has expressed his readiness to open up schools, although he can’t be certain about what the cabinet will decide in line with the recommendations of the Science Board.
For the time being, the Science Board has no view about reopening schools, although it is a subject it frequently ponders. The assessments will continue until the cabinet convenes next week, when we’ll see whether current infection numbers permit the partial normalization of life, including the opening of schools.
In the meantime, some prominent education-focused NGOs, such as the Turkish Education Association (TED), have launched campaigns to reopen schools. TED, under the title of “We have to return to schools because our future is in danger,” has initiated a campaign to emphasize that the continued closures will inflict lasting damage on this generation.
Very few countries completely shuttered their schools the way Turkey did, TED has said, urging the government to include teachers in the priority vaccination groups. It has also noted that online education risks deepening the gap between rich and poor as it deepens inequality in accessing education.
The problem for the government is that it is also under pressure from restaurant owners who are facing their own mounting problems. A difficult decision awaits the government in the coming days.