The number of tweets Turkish Twitter users posted to protest the government's plan to abolish dershanes, private educational institutions that prepare students for national exams, reached 2.5 million on Teachers' Day on Saturday.
The tweets were posted under four hashtags: #dershaneylekazandım (“I won with prep school”), #dershanemiseviyorum (“I love my prep school”), #bencedershaneler (“Prep schools for me”) and #benimdershanem (“My prep school”).
The fate of schools offering supplementary courses to assist students with high school and university exam preparation has become a hot topic in Turkey, following remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in early September that course providers would either be turned into private schools or closed down in 2013. The announcement sparked heated debate among the public, primarily educators and representatives of preparatory course providers, who argue that the courses are vital to the Turkish education system, which suffers from various deficiencies.
A Twitter campaign was launched by sosyalmedya.in, a social monitoring website, to measure the reactions of the public to the government's plan to close down prep schools on Nov. 12. The campaign found wide support from Twitter users and the number of tweets in support of prep schools exceeded 2.5 million on Saturday, making the campaign one of the top trending topics worldwide.
The hashtag #benimdershanem became the trending topic. Twitter users discussed the possible negative and positive impacts of closing down prep schools, with most concluding that it would deal a further blow to equal opportunity in the educational system.
In one tweet, a user said: “I love my prep school because it provided me and continues to provide millions of students with equality of opportunity on national exams.”
Another user posted: “I became the first person to get the chance to attend a university thanks to my prep school.” According to another user: “Prep schools weaken the hands of the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] in the east, and young people go to the universities instead of the mountains [to join the PKK] thanks to prep schools.”
In Turkey, students pay for lessons at dershanes to supplement their regular school curriculum. At most schools, there are 40 hours of lessons a week, while dershanes offer around 15-20 hours of lessons weekly. In Turkey, most middle and high school students attend dershanes while preparing for exams that will decide which high schools and universities they will be eligible to attend. The extra cost to parents for the courses can be a huge burden for middle class families, requiring many to cut costs in other areas to raise the money for their children to attend.
The debate over the elimination of dershanes is not new in Turkey. State officials have considered such plans before, but words have never previously turned into action.
Educators say the elimination of the schools may seem like a potential relief to parents, but that such a plan inevitably brings with it multiple questions, such as whether the removal of the schools is an achievable goal in the short term and whether the government will make changes to the exam system after the course providers are closed.