Holiday over, millions of children go back to school

Holiday over, millions of children go back to school

September 24, 2009, Thursday/ 16:57:00
The 2009-2010 school year starts today, with over a million children venturing into their new classrooms for the first time. Nearly 15 million children will go to school today, with 1,307,000 of them doing so for the first time.

The first day of school is unconventionally on a Thursday this year due to the bayram holiday last week. The first semester break will start on Jan 22, 2010 and last 16 days, with children going back to school for the second semester on Monday, Feb. 8, 2010. This academic year will end on June 18, 2010. The new school year also marks the first year for new Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu.

The state now emphasizes the importance of preschool, which is now compulsory in 33 provinces, and the Education Ministry is now hiring 6,000 preschool educators to meet the new demand.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on the phone, Emin Gürkan, head of the General Directorate of Middle School Education said everything had gone smoothly before the first day of school. However, not everyone agreed. Ahmet Gündoğdu, head of the Education Personnel Labor Union (Eğitim Bir-Sen), said there were going to be problems with teacher availability. “It is impossible for the ministry to close the 100,000 teacher gap just by appointing 15,000 or 20,000 teachers.” He also said a new constitution was needed to ensure equal opportunity for all in education.

First-graders started school a week before their older schoolmates, as part of a new orientation program.

Democracy and anti-discrimination 101

As 15 million students and 650,000 teachers go back to school today in Turkey's primary, middle and high schools, Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu will kick off the new educational year with a class in İstanbul on democracy and discrimination, which will also be broadcast live today on TRT 2.

In this first class, Çubukçu will emphasize the importance of democratization and the harm caused by discrimination. President Abdullah Gül issued a message yesterday to mark the occasion, saying it was a priority of the state to provide children and youth with the highest-quality educational opportunities possible. “We attach great importance to raising new generations who are respectful of human rights and humans and opinions, who are tolerant and who can think, improve their skills, access information, read much and appreciate democracy and the values of the modern world,” he said.

In the statement issued by the Presidential Press Office, Gül said the better the opportunities extended to Turkey's children and youth in schools are, the brighter Turkey's future will be. He also addressed teachers in his statement, saying they had the greatest responsibility in raising generations with a “free will and free conscience,” a motto laid down by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the nation's founder.

“We know that the greatest onus in this process is on the shoulders of our teachers,” he said before extending his gratitude to schoolteachers. İstanbul Today's Zaman with wires

İsmail Koncuk, head of the teachers' union Türk Eğitim-Sen, said there were not enough classrooms, materials and equipment in schools necessary for education and that the deficiency in the number of teachers was 150,000.

First graders, like last year, started school on Sept. 14, a week before their older schoolmates, as part of a new orientation program. The purpose is to make the first day of school less intimidating for beginners and give them time to learn their way around the school building before the older children arrive.

This year is seen as a promising one for the vocational education sector, the driving force of business and industry. The ministry has included classes in the curriculum that had been left out previously, to narrow the gap between regular high schools and vocational schools. The move comes after a decision to no longer apply a lower coefficient to vocational high school graduates' scores as part of the formula used in calculating high school graduates' scores in the national university admission exam, known as the Student Selection Exam (ÖSS). The equal coefficient and the new curriculum are expected to rapidly develop vocational education in Turkey.

Meanwhile, the ministry will apply its Parent Education Project nationally, already being piloted in areas in İstanbul, to encourage parents to take a closer interest in their children's education. As part of the project, parents of first graders joined classes in the first week of school along with their children. The Ministry of Education will appoint 15,000 teachers to new posts in the last quarter of this year to meet the higher demand for teachers in state schools. The ministry is also continuing its implementation of handing out textbooks to students free of charge. No changes have been made to school uniforms this year, and prices in school cafeterias -- a crucial subject for many parents -- remain unchanged.

Parents also back in school

The parents of 230,000 students this year started school along with first graders as part of the Parent Education Project on Sept. 14-18. Parents took classes taught by counseling teachers on subjects including but not limited to the school their child will be attending and its environs, the Parent-Teacher Association, the primary duties of parents regarding education, school phobias, basic hygiene, first aid, abuse and negligence and legal regulations about primary education and communication.

Also this year, parents in 33 provinces had to enroll their five-year-olds in the first compulsory preschool programs in the country. These provinces include Amasya, Artvin, Bilecik, Bolu, Burdur, Çanakkale, Denizli, Edirne, Eskişehir, Gümüşhane, Kırıklareli, Kütahya, Muğla, Nevşehir, Rize, Sakarya, Sinop, Tunceli, Uşak, Yozgat, Bayburt, Karaman, Kırıkkale, Ardahan, Yalova, Kilis, Konya, Hatay, Ağrı and Van. Meanwhile, the Education Ministry has announced that 5,356 preschool educators would be hired this year in a total of 15,800 new teacher assignments to Turkey's schools this year.

The ministry announced changes in the basic classes taught in vocational schools this year, to help these schools achieve parity with regular high schools shortly after the end of the implementation of a coefficient that put vocational school student at a great disadvantage in the ÖSS. The school week, which was previously 35 hours in vocational and technical training schools, will now be 40 hours. Vocational and technical training schools now have to offer five hours of optional classes on the Turkish language, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology to their students. In addition to these, four new classes -- physical education, art, music and geometry -- are now compulsory in vocational schools. The ministry will invest $140 million this year to reinforce 44 more schools against a potential earthquake in İstanbul. So far, 507 schools have been demolished and reconstructed.

The cost of going to school

According to a recent study conducted by Eğitim Bir-Sen, the average cost incurred on a family per student monthly is TL 73. According to the study, a family has to spend between TL 80 and TL 120 solely on clothing. A student enrolling in preschool costs his or her parents TL 250, while that figure is TL 400 for a child starting primary school. The study also shows that school buses and special prep courses for high school and university admission examinations more than double the costs. The monthly total cost for a child taken to school by school buses, known in Turkish as “servis,” is TL 226 in primary school and TL 246 for middle school. The monthly cost of a child attending prep courses for the high school Level Determination Exam (SBS) for sixth, seventh and eighth graders is TL 268, while it can go as high as TL 371 for a student taking prep courses for the ÖSS, for 11th and 12th graders.

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