First grade and pre-school students started school on Sept. 10, a week before other students, as part of an orientation program designed to help new students adapt to school life more easily. The new school year is scheduled to start on Sept. 17 for other primary, middle and high school students.
With the recent 4+4+4 education law -- which increased the current duration of compulsory education from an uninterrupted eight years to 12 in three stages -- children at 66 months of age will have to register at a primary school.
If children fail to attend school, and parents do not submit a medical certificate exempting the child, the Ministry of Education will initiate legal action against the parents, with a fine of TL 15 for every day the child does not attend school during the academic year.
This change has drawn strong reactions from parents and educators, who believe that children of such a young age will be unable to adapt to school, or will be unable to meet the requirements of primary school education.
Despite the reactions and criticisms, these children started school across Turkey on Monday. However, many of the young school starters were unable to adapt to the school environment and are now refusing to return, raising concerns over the wellbeing of the children, their future education and possible legal consequences for parents.
Furkan Demir, 68 months old, began attending Atatürk Primary School in the province of Siirt. But after the experience of his first day of school, he now refuses to return. His mother, Zübeyde Demir, told Sunday’s Zaman that her son starts to cry even hearing the word “school.”
“He didn’t go to school after the first day. We tried to persuade him to return, but he cried and said he would never go back to school. I am deeply concerned about whether my son will ever go back to school again. He was scared of the classroom environment and felt insecure in the classrooms, asking me to take him home. When I refused to take him, he cried loudly, so I had to take him home on Monday. Now I don’t know what to do or how to deal with my son,” she explained.
Another young school starter, Amed Gürel, 67 months old, says he dislikes school as he becomes bored during lessons, generally a 40-minute session in Turkish schools. Amed started at an İstanbul school in the Yenibosna district. His mother, Şükran Gürel, says she has been unable to persuade her son to return to school, adding that she feels helpless and does not know how to deal with the situation.
Meryem Melek, grandmother of 69-month-old Ali, told Sunday’s Zaman that her grandson cannot go to the toilet without his parents’ help and asked how it would be possible for him to spend periods of time away from home. Ali’s mother, Zeynep Melek, agreed. “My son is asking me how he will go to the toilet at school. I cannot answer him because I don’t have any idea about that. I examined the facilities at the school of my son, but they are not suitable for the use of young children at all. There are also older students in the same class as my son. How can he compete with these children, who have higher levels of development? I don’t understand anything about this new system at all,” she told Sunday’s Zaman. Ali is enrolled at Sakarya Primary School, located in İstanbul’s Sultangazi district.
Stating that parents often project their own worries onto their children, psychiatrists say parents should not make children feel their concerns and that both teachers and parents should behave more sensitively towards the children to help them adapt to school more easily.
Child development specialist Gözde Erdoğan told Sunday’s Zaman that parents of first graders are concerned about the recent changes in the school system, and that the children are scared because they are entering an unfamiliar environment and because they don’t want to separate from their parents. “If the parents project their concerns onto the children, naturally the children will be afraid of returning to school. Their worries might deepen if their teachers don’t behave considerately towards these children. Teachers should be very friendly and sensitive to the children,” she noted.
Stating that parents should exhibit a determined attitude, Erdoğan noted that parents should sent their children to pre-school if they insist on refusing to return to school; otherwise, these children will completely break their connection with education. “Children may bring some toys or any property of their parents with them to school to feel more secure at school and help them adapt to school easily,” Erdoğan further stated.
Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, psychologist Dr. Reyhan Saydam of İstanbul University medical faculty’s department of child health and disease, points out another problem that may emerge within the school by saying that incidents of child abuse might increase because children in fourth grade and these young school starters will go to the same school. “The young children can not protect themselves against the older students, which might boost the number of abuse incidents in Turkish schools,” Saydam commented.