The recent results of the YGS came as a shock to many, as they revealed a roughly 360 percent rise in the number of students who scored zero in the entire exam over the past two years. Among a total of 1.8 million students who took the exam, held on April 1, 50,805 university candidates scored zero overall. This number was 14,000 in 2010 and 38,269 in 2011 -- marking a 362.8 percent rise in the number of students who did not receive any points at all in the last two years. This data has brought the long-standing problem of the quality of Turkish education into the spotlight.
The number of students who scored zero points in the math section of the 2012 YGS was 700,000, which draws attention to Turkey’s methods of teaching math. Turkish educators agree that these poor results from Turkey’s mathematics classrooms are mostly a result of Turkey’s traditional approach to math education, outdated ways of teaching math and overloaded math curriculum. They also blame several general problems in the Turkish education system, such as excessive class sizes, an inadequate student-teacher ratio and unequal opportunities offered to students from lower socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
Turkish Education Personnel Union (Türk Eğitim-Sen) Chairman İsmail Koncuk, who worked as a math teacher for over 20 years, attributed the poor math scores to Turkey’s overloaded mathematics curriculum, in a conversation with Sunday’s Zaman.
“When we examine math curricula from all grades in Turkish schools, we see that the current curricula place an excessive burden on students’ shoulders. The current math curricula teach everything at once, failing to teach each subject satisfactorily, with sufficient, comprehensive exercises,” he explained.
Elaborating on the issue, Koncuk said that, because of Turkey’s overly ambitions annual plans, Turkish math teachers must quickly jump from subject to subject without students’ full comprehension. Teachers do not have time to complete a sufficient number of exercises to explain each mathematical concept because they cannot fall behind in the annual plan. Koncuk also said that the math curricula and annual plans do not allow enough time for each subject because they emphasize teaching as many subjects as possible in the shortest amount of time, which is not effective for abstract subjects such as math.
“Another problem that contributes to poor math scores is the low amount of classroom time invested in each student by teachers due to excessive class sizes in Turkish schools. At least two minutes should be spared for each student in each [45 minute] lesson, but Turkey has schools with class sizes as large as 60 students. So how much time can really be allocated to each student? It is only 45 seconds.”
“More interactive teaching methods should be adopted for math education. Sufficient time should be allocated for each subject to ensure complete learning. Instead of solving only two sample questions, 10 questions should be solved. Also, while preparing math curricula, students’ developmental stages should be taken into consideration,” Koncuk said.
Union of Democratic Educationalists (DES) head Gürkan Avcı told Sunday’s Zaman the YGS results showed that Turkey is not good at teaching mathematics in the same way that it does not excel in teaching English; math is being taught with techniques and methods that date back more than 20 years.
Stating that Turkey should give much more importance to satisfactorily teaching mathematics, Avcı said that the government has made major improvements in Turkey’s education system in recent years, but Turkey should also carry out some reforms in mathematics education because math is the basis for education; math develops students’ abstract and analytical thinking skills. When students receive poor education in math, they are more likely to fail in other subjects.
Avcı said that changing or revising the math curricula is not sufficient -- teachers who present the curricula should also be satisfactorily educated. “In-service training courses, seminars and conferences should be provided to math teachers to help them employ contemporary techniques and methods for teaching math,” Avcı noted.
Feyzi Başar, head of Fatih University’s department of mathematics, told Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey is not successful in teaching math because it fails to train qualified teachers. He added math education is based on rote learning. Most teachers are taught math with formulas, not with interactive instruction. “Because students are taught with formulas, students are raised without satisfactory reasoning abilities,” Başar said.
“Turkey’s biggest mistake is in trying to completely eliminate the former system and starting all over again. But instead of eliminating the former system, Turkey should focus on finding the shortcomings of the former system and resolving them. Constructing a new system by starting from scratch sends Turkeys back years,” Başar concluded.
In a related development, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) announced on Monday that it will begin a joint project with the Education Ministry to restructure Turkey’s math curricula based on successful models from Finland and South Korea. The project is expected to be completed before the end of the 2012-2013 school year.