Summit backs proposed education system, stresses consensus

Deputy PM Ali Babacan (R) and Bursa Governor Şehabettin Harput examine a brochure provided to participants on the first day of the summit in Bursa. (Photo: AA)

March 16, 2012, Friday/ 16:57:00

Representatives of Turkey's business world at the 1st Uludağ Economy Summit in Bursa have voiced support for a proposed new education system that envisages increased emphasis on vocational training in schools, as they underlined the importance of consultation with all parties involved before an effective program can be established.

A bill seeking to increase the duration of compulsory education from eight years to 12 was approved by Parliament's Education Commission last week following heated discussions. Observers, NGOs and business circles have in the past joined statements to call for Turkey's education system to be upgraded in order for the country to maintain sustainable economic growth. The education bill has sparked tensions between the major opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) also joined in opposing the government's proposal to change the duration of the country's compulsory education. The anticipated education system envisages children being able to enroll in other types of educational institutions -- namely vocational high schools -- after the first four years. It involves measures to encourage technical training and provide flexible options for youngsters to pick fields or professions at different stages of school.

“The question is whether we want to see new generations accustomed with and well-informed about our own local, cultural values, while at the same time following global developments closely or not. …We have to be clear on this, and the government has no intention of backpedalling on this aspiration,” Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told Friday's summit. In what was regarded as an answer to earlier criticism, Babacan added to his comment that “the government is open to all suggestions.” “However, we should not let the reforms made in the past decade go in vain. …We [the government] will continue promoting what is best for Turkey with as much consultation with all parties involved as possible.”

Addressing the participants, Doğan Holding's Begümhan Doğan Faralyalı stressed the importance of vocational training for sustainable economic growth. TÜSİAD Chairwoman Ümit Boyner also stressed that the government's motto of “planning the future of Turkey” is very important for them in the midst of global fluctuations. Making mention of sustainable growth in Turkey, Boyner said the country needs to enhance its qualified human power, entrepreneurship potential.

Today's Zaman discussed the business world's reaction to the system with participants at the summit. Reiterating difficulties faced in finding skilled personnel, Limak Holding CEO Nihat Özdemir told Today's Zaman that he supports the proposed new vocational high schools model. “Short-time differences aside, I have faith the business world and the government will meet at a mutual point to further back the implementation of the new education program. This is important for Turkey's future,” he opined.

According to the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat), Turkey's youth unemployment in 2011 was 18.4 percent. Underlying reasons for such a high unemployment rate is the limited number of qualified workers, or intermediate employees. The difficulty of finding skilled workers results in increased unemployment, particularly among young, educated people. Earlier labor surveys show Turkey fails to create new job positions requiring technical skills.

Evaluating the criticisms from certain parties to the new program, Sanko Holding CEO Abdulkadir Konukoğlu told Today's Zaman that “these are normal reactions in a democratic country, and there is no reason that differences of opinion be sorted out.” “The lack of qualified personnel is not a new problem in Turkey. I know many businessmen who cannot make new investments due to this gridlock, and it is the entire society's responsibility to remedy this,” he explained.

According to Young Businessmen's Association of Turkey (TÜGİAD) Chairman Ömer Kızıl, the government should take its time to meet with as many NGOs and businessmen as possible to discuss the new system. “I don't know who they [the government] contacted to this end so far, but we should not forget common sense is the cement of this issue. As regards the new program's contribution to long-term sustainable economic growth, we have no problem with that,” he told Today's Zaman. Ağaoğlu Holding CEO Ali Ağaoğlu was among the businessmen at the summit to join support for increased focus on vocational training in schools. “No one denies the increasing need in this respect, and we need to take time before it is too late. This new system could be a solution,” he told Today's Zaman.

According to the bill, the compulsory 12 years of education will be divided into three levels: four years of primary school, four years of middle school and another four years devoted to high school.

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