The prime minister spoke during his Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) expanded provincial chairmen meeting Sunday afternoon, and stated that preparation courses for high school and university entrance exams -- or dershanes -- will be removed. “This is a demand coming from our people. We will take steps towards it [removal of those courses] and we will remove them by 2014,” Erdoğan stated.
Dershanes, which literally means “lesson-houses,” are places where students pay for extra lessons outside 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. They usually cut down on expenses and save money so that their children can attend the courses.
Erdoğan said the state would “make contributions” to dershanes if they decide to convert into private schools. “I am calling on dershane owners. If you want to serve this country, turn into [private] schools. And the state will purchase services from you; the state will fill your classes with children. We will not make you suffer [financially]. If you turn into schools, the state will gain new schools without additional investment and the dershanes can continue their activities in the education sector,” the prime minister stated.
Also on Monday, Education Minister Ömer Dinçer responded to questions by reporters and said, “Studies examining the implications of the abolition of dershanes are being conducted.” “I will share the results with you once our studies are completed,” he added.
A debate over the removal of dershanes is not a new topic in Turkey. State officials have mentioned such plans before, but the words have not turned into action thus far.
Educators say the removal of private preparation courses may sound like a relief to parents, but such a plan inevitably brings with it multiple questions. Among the questions are: Is the removal of these courses in the short term an achievable goal? Will the government change the exam system after preparation courses are removed?
Several dershanes and education associations convened for urgent meetings on Monday to discuss the plan to abolish preparation courses and what they should do if the courses are shut down. Today's Zaman called the Private Courses Union (ÖZ-DE-BİR) to find out about the union's opinion of the prime minister's remarks. Officials said the union had started a two-day meeting to discuss the issue and union President Faruk Köprülü would call a press conference on Tuesday to make public the results of the meeting.
Across Turkey, there are 3,961 preparation courses offering extra lessons for high school and university entrance exams. Roughly 1,219,000 students attend these courses. Around 80,000 personnel are employed by these dershanes. Parents pay around TL 4,000 a year for an eighth grader who attends the preparation courses, and the sum rises up to TL 6,000 for a 12th grader.
Ünsal Yıldız, head of the Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen), an employees' union that represents teachers and educators, believes that the removal of preparation courses is not an achievable goal in the short term. According to Yıldız, dershanes are not the root, but result of the problem surrounding the existing education system, which is based on competition of students. “As long as the competitive system exists, students will seek ways to beat their rivals in the exams. This will be through dershanes; if dershanes are closed down, people will invent other methods. For example, students will receive private courses from their teachers,” he stated.
Columnist Gülay Göktürk, who also writes on education matters, believes the abolition of dershanes may relieve pressure on parents in financial terms, but it will not solve Turkey's problems with its education system. For her, the real problem stems from Turkey's inability to offer am adequate number of high schools and universities for all students who wish to continue their education. As capacity of schools is smaller than the number of aspiring students, fierce competition among students is inevitable. Göktürk said if dershanes are abolished, then students will seek to receive extra -- and naturally paid -- courses from teachers to get better prepared for the exams, and this demand will soon turn into a new sub-sector in the area of education.
“If this happens, poor families will never have the chance to have their children receive extra courses from teachers,” the columnist said, and added that this will deal a huge blow to the existing system, which -- albeit to an extent -- provides an equal opportunity to students.
‘Turning dershanes into private schools unlikely'
Educators think it is unlikely to turn preparation courses to private schools because an overwhelming majority of them lack the required infrastructure to become schools.
Democratic Educators' Union (DES) Chairman Gürkan Avcı said the removal of dershanes will be possible only in time -- when they are no longer a requirement for the education system. However, he said, at least 95 percent of those courses do not possess required infrastructure, such as big buildings, enough classrooms, laboratories and playgrounds, to become schools. “This is not something I am saying. This is what statistics say,” he stated.
Avcı also noted that dershanes employ around 80,000 teachers, and asked what those teachers would do if dershanes are closed down. He also said closing down dershanes would not solve the problems in the education system, adding state officials had better work to solve those problems.