Parents who really care want the best for their children. Parents everywhere have concerns about their children’s education. The Turkish government has been challenged about education with the increasing population growth rate and migration to urban areas.
The trend in Turkey among the middle class and the elite has been to seek other options than state schools. Millions of privileged Turkish children, whose parents can afford it, attend private schools. Although the Turkish government is trying to improve state schools, much remains to be done. Research conducted by UNICEF between 2000 and 2009 stated that 10 percent of the central government expenditure was allocated to education. Turkish state schools in many ways have improved but are a far cry from the private ones. Most state schools are overcrowded and have insufficient staff, textbooks and supplies. Parents have concerns for the child’s development and disciplinary measures in these schools.
I remember when I started becoming interested in Turkey, I read many books about Turkey and Atatürk. It was Atatürk who strongly promoted literacy programs to every village and encouraged women to learn to read and write. As a result of this literacy campaign and ongoing efforts, the literacy rate for females between the ages of 15 and 24 has reached 97 percent and for men it is 99 percent. Literacy would be defined here as being able to, with understanding, read and write a short, simple statement about one’s everyday life. Though these figures are high, you will come across individuals in Turkish society who have not learned to read properly but can sign their name and read numbers to make phone calls and find the right bus. For example, some women in the domestic sector, such as maids, who are over 40 may not be truly literate.
A high emphasis is placed on education in Turkey. The educational system is undergoing serious changes with the introduction of 4+4+4 reform. For newcomers to Turkey, let me explain briefly that in the past a child was to attend school for eight years beginning at age 7. There were two types of schools: public and private. As alluded to already, public schools have exceptionally large classes, usually 30 children or more. I always enjoy seeing the kids walking to school dressed in their uniforms. The public elementary school (ilkokul) uniform is a blue or black apron with a detachable white collar. The uniform at private schools and at junior high (ortaokul) or high school (lise) is often tartan. Those attending private schools usually have the privilege of traveling to and from school by shuttle buses.
In İstanbul, on nearly every street corner in certain neighborhoods you can see a kindergarten (yuva) or a preschool (anaokul). These are always private. Between 2007 and 2010, a UNICEF report stated that pre-primary school participation among males was 18 percent and for females it was 17 percent. These are becoming more and more popular mainly among the middle class and above. Grandparents or another relative would look after the children in lower income families and in rural areas. Overall, children who are under age 5 number nearly 6.5 million.
With Turkey’s increasing young population, education is on the minds of many! The development of quality education seems to be a growing concern internationally. This is particularly true for educators in rural areas around the world where education has not been a high priority, particularly for girls, so children tend to be less educated. Rural families still have many children. As a result of this, villages are more conservative and superstitious. It is a close-knit society. Turkey is different in that in recent years the rural areas are shrinking in Turkey: The nation has become 70 percent urbanized.
I wonder how many of you read Dr. Seuss books when you were a child. I love this quote!
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more you’ll go!” --Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org