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May 02, 2012, Wednesday

Facing realities of 4+4+4 education reform

From the very beginning I had reservations about the 4+4+4 reform. My main reservation was about Turkey's potential to realize the reform. A second issue I had in mind was the apparent contradictions between the religious-cultural realities of Turkey and the legal-modern impositions of the education system. I still have both of these reservations, and unfortunately, time proved me right, even before the new system was launched.

Turkey does not have adequate facilities to actualize this ambitious educational reform. Politics is the art of balancing between what is desirable and what is attainable. The 4+4+4 reform is theoretically perfect. But it cannot be put into action. The reform is like taking a cardiac patient to a hospital and, during surgery, asking the doctors for extra cosmetic touches that will make the patient not only healthier, but also younger, stronger, smarter and even taller after the operation.

Let us pronounce the painful truth: The previous educational system was a great failure. This is not a criticism only towards the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government. The system was in fact imposed upon the government, and any kind of substantial change would bring their end. We all know that. The system failed, and it needed “surgery,” but 4+4+4 is far more than that. All we needed was 5+3 or 4+4, and that should have been done in five years' time, and not at once as the current reform is being done.

It is not a secret that the new system is going to let the middle schools of vocational schools, among which were the imam-hatip schools with their religious curriculum, be reopened. But almost none of the current vocational high schools are fit to open middle schools. The primary schools, on the other hand, are not well-equipped for their current needs. The new system will have to fill the gap of thousands of new school buildings, tens of thousands of new teachers and a huge budget and administrative structure, with only the short space of summer to make this a reality.

The new system dropped the beginning of education to 60 months plus age from 72 months plus. This was a clever move given the fact that with 12 years of compulsory education, an earlier start is wiser for several reasons. But on the other hand, for the first year of the adaption to the new system, children who are 5 and 6 years old will all be enrolled in the first grade of primary school. In a normal year, about 1.2 million children begin their education, and the schooling facilities of the country have been built accordingly. This year, this number will almost double, and schools will need double the amount of classrooms and teachers for first grade. But, next year, neither these classrooms nor these teachers will be needed.

I had underlined the cultural-religious realities of Turkey when the third set of four years was added to the compulsory education system. Turkey is a vast country, and we live not only four seasons, but also four centuries at the same time. In some provinces of the country, early marriages take place quite often. The Turkish Civic Law ordains that individuals must be at least 17 years old to marry and gives judges the right to allow the marriage of 16-year-olds in extremely special circumstances. 4+4+4 takes 16 or 17 years within its range. A recent draft regarding further reform of high schools that leaked to the press shows that the Ministry of Education is aware of the implications of possible marriages at these early ages and is looking for ways to deal with the needs of married students. It is good to see that the ministry has started to look for solutions to problems that have not yet emerged, but on the other hand, it is a pity to see that these problems have become possible for Turkey in the future only because of this untimely upgrade of the education system.

The cardiac patient is taller now, but the heart is still experiencing spasms.

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