Numerous elective courses began to be offered in schools with the advent of the new education reform, popularly known as 4+4+4, which came into effect with the start of the 2012-2013 school year on Sept. 17. Elective courses in the Kurdish language, the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad are being offered for the first time this year, prompting curiosity over the popularity of the new courses, which sparked debate across Turkey when the reform was introduced.
With enrollment for elective courses closing on Friday, some courses had emerged as frontrunners. According to figures released by Education Ministry Undersecretary Emin Zararsız, the elective course chosen by most students across Turkey was mathematical practices, with 495,000 enrollments. This was followed by foreign language courses, with 410,000 students choosing to study English, French, German, Arabic, Chinese or Russian, and the Quran course, in which 400,000 students enrolled. The number of students interested in the course on the life of the Prophet Muhammad was 256,000, while 21,000 students have chosen to study the Kurdish language.
In response to the question of why mathematical practices was the most favored course Turkey-wide, Union of Active Educators (Aktif-Sen) Chairman Osman Bahçe, who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman, attributed it to the way mathematics is commonly viewed by the public. He said that success in mathematics and the Turkish language are seen as preconditions for success in public examinations, adding: “We cay say that parents commonly encourage their children to prefer the mathematical practices elective course as they consider the math lessons an assurance of a bright future for their children. Furthermore, the most prestigious professions in Turkey are mathematics-related ones, such as engineering and medicine. Students have to be successful in mathematics if they want to have these professions. That is why math is so popular in the country.”
Democratic Educators’ Union (DES) Chairman Gürkan Avcı, in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman, said that the reason for the popularity of the math practices elective course is the examination-based education system. “As you know, students who receive the necessary scores in the university entrance exams have the chance to access university education in Turkey, and math constitutes a very important part of these examinations,” Avcı noted. He also pointed out a common conception among the public that if a student is successful in math he or she is intelligent, adding that some parents are motivated to send their children to supplementary math courses by this belief.
Low numbers in Kurdish elective courses
The government’s decision to designate Kurdish an elective course in secondary education has met with enthusiasm from representatives of nongovernmental organizations and universities in Southeast Turkey, as they believe the decision will take the country a step further on the path of democratization. But the number of students applying for the course has proved lower than expected. In the Kurdish-populated province of Diyarbakır, 132 students have enrolled in the elective. However, Zararsız explained that it is understandable that the figures are low as only certain students in certain regions will opt for that course.
On the subject of the Kurdish elective courses, Bahçe said: “People actually announce their own priorities with their preferences in elective courses. The figures for the Kurdish elective courses show that the receiving of education in the mother tongue is not a priority for people in the southeastern or eastern parts of Turkey; this issue was inflated by ill-intentioned people to cause conflict between Kurdish and Turkish communities in the country.” But Bahçe observed that the Education Ministry had thwarted these aims to some degree by introducing Kurdish elective courses.