As consistent policy-making process in the field of education has been completely removed by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its failed response to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, students and teachers are left to their ‘fate’ with the educational system drifted into a chaotic state. It seems that it is the eagerness and profit-driven plans of the private school bosses that determine the schedule for the reopening of the schools in the country.
Schools in Turkey, which were closed to face-to-face learning on March 16 due to the pandemic, continued with distance learning, and the academic year ended on June 19.
While discussions on the reopening schools have been going on since June 19 in the country, the start date of face-to-face education, previously announced as August 31, is now deferred to September 21, 2020.
However, different practices regarding the learning methods have emerged both in general and between public and private schools until September 21.
Sources state that some of the private schools have started face-to-face education within the scope of ‘‘supportive courses’’ for students, who will take the central examinations in the 12th and 8th grades, with the concern of insufficient school enrolment.
Even though the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) has announced the date of September 21 for the commencement of face-to-face education, teachers in some private schools have already started face-to-face meetings across the country. The Ministry also invites public school teachers to their schools for the seminar period as of August 24.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS ARE SEEKING FOR TURNING PANDEMIC CRISIS INTO OPPORTUNITY
Under the pandemic circumstances, it is understood that the most important agenda of private school bosses is the continuation of the school enrolment of current students and receiving new enrolments.
In parallel to these motivations of the private school bosses, the most important reason behind MoNE’s inconsistent statements regarding the school year calendar is the concern about keeping student enrolment at a certain level in private schools and the lobbying activities of private schools in this direction.
Since the start date of face-to-face learning in schools is announced as September 21 and even this date is uncertain due to the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of parents are planning to drop their children out of the private schools because of the concerns that distance learning processes are not effective and cannot be charged as if in the form of face-to-face education.
On the other hand, private schools develop various marketing strategies in order to at least keep the enrolled students in schools, while trying to turn the deadlock in education into a pressure to get new incentives from the government.
In the midst of all these discussions regarding distance education and new school calendar, concerns about whether tens of thousands of private school teachers will receive their monthly salary in full and on time have turned into worries about whether they will receive a salary this year. The first item that private school bosses, who make no concessions on receiving tuition fees with increased rates from parents, have set their eyes on in the pandemic process is the already limited rights of teachers.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN LEFT TO THEIR ‘‘FATE’’
Amidst all this state of chaos, public schools as well as their students, teachers, and parents have been completely left to their fate by the government authorities.
After the end of distance learning on June 19, it is unclear what the Ministry of National Education has done to prepare public schools for the new school term and to reopen schools by pushing the limits.
Teachers working at public schools say that almost no preventive measures have been taken sufficiently for social distancing practices and hygiene rules in order to start face-to-face education in their schools.
In a statement this week, Ziya Selçuk, the Minister of National Education, had stated that the relevant government authorities are working on the reopening the schools to face-to-face education on September 21, linking the government’s failure to reopen the schools with the people’s insufficient use of masks to prevent the disease by saying, ‘‘Please wear masks and keep your social distance so that we can reopen schools and do our jobs, and our children meet their schools again.’’
As the Turkish government announced that the 2020-2021 school year will start with distance learning, it is seen that this situation will continue for a while, considering the course of the pandemic. It is not so difficult to predict that while there are no sufficient preventive measures regarding social distancing practices and hygiene rules in schools these days as we spend the middle of August, the authorities will not be able to reopen the schools to face-to-face education for a while.
Mustafa, a classroom teacher soL news asked about the preparations for distance learning in Turkish schools, told that the most important problems in the distance learning experience in the past were the infrastructural difficulties of students and teachers such as the absence of necessary devices and internet, the inadequacies of national Education Information Network (EBA), a system introduced by MoNE for remote education as part of measures against the spread of COVID-19 on March 23, 2020, and the limited technical skills.
Noting that MoNE has failed to do what it had to do for neither students nor teachers during the pandemic process, Mustafa said, ‘‘Teachers had to bear all the burden of the lessons for the children's participation in education.’’
‘‘Internet, computer, whiteboard, and stationery equipment have all become the problems that teachers have to solve in pandemic conditions,’’ he added.
TEACHERS TRY TO MAKE NECESSARY PREPARATIONS THROUGH THEIR OWN MEANS
The class teacher Mustafa also pointed out that MoNE has completely wasted the time since June 19, saying the Ministry, which received opinions from students and teachers within the framework of access to distance education, has taken no necessary steps to reopen the schools or to provide an effective remote learning environment so far.
Noting that he searched for suitable technological devices and necessary stationery equipment for a proper distance education until the reopening of schools in the country, Mustafa told, ‘‘We will need a new computer or a tablet that will perform the same function with a computer, a writing board, clipboard, and many stationery supplies for the distance learning process. I also know that I am not the only one thinking about this. It costs me almost 6-7 thousand TL [$822-$959]. Besides, if I am going to do this job from home, I will have to arrange a separate room for it.’’
Highlighting that MoNE has no concrete suggestions regarding any of these problems we faced as teachers and the needs of the students, Mustafa added that Turkey’s National Education authority does nothing but make inconsistent and insecure statements about when the schools will reopen in the country.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FATIH PROJECT INITIATED BY MoNE TO FACILITATE A TECHNOLOGY-SUPPORTED EDUCATION IN TURKEY?
The statements of the class teacher Mustafa smacked of Turkey’s Fatih Project, initiated by the MoNE to facilitate a technology-supported education in the country, which was the most invested fields in educational technologies in the history of Turkish education.
As the FATİH (Turkish initials for ‘‘Movement of Increasing Opportunities and Improving Technology’’) Project had been launched in 2010 to promote equal opportunities in learning environments and improve the technological conditions in our schools, 570.000 classrooms in all our nursery, primary and secondary schools will be provided with LCD Interactive Panel Boards and Internet infrastructure, aiming to appeal more senses of students during the learning process and increase the efficiency of the teaching in classrooms, it caused millions of dollars to be wasted due to the Turkish government’s failure to implement the project properly.
In his response to a parliamentary question regarding the project, the Minister National Education, Ziya Selçuk, had informed that the cost of the FATİH Project since its commencement is 3-4 billion TL [$408.141-$ 544.188], although the claims are much higher.
430 thousand interactive boards were installed in schools and around 1 million 400 thousand tablets were distributed to students and teachers within the scope of the project, the government authorities say.
However, many of the tablets could not be used due to technical hardware problems, while interactive boards in schools could not be used widely and effectively due to the lack of content compatible with the boards, hardware problems, and the inability to develop technical skills for such devices.
The AKP government, which does not follow certain policies in line with public responsibility and in a human-oriented manner during such a period of crisis, neither mentions the name of the FATİH project nor takes necessary steps towards increasing the professional development of teachers in the distance learning process in education, in order to meet the needs of students and teachers.
As September approaches, it is quite clear that education, which has been shaped by the Islamic reactionary impositions of the ruling AKP for years, has slid into chaos once again due to the government’s insufficient policies in fighting COVID-19 pandemic, causing a possible disruption of reopening schools in this year.
Students have been away from their school, friends, and teachers for months. Teachers are looking for a way out without any support from the MoNE. Parents, on the other hand, are stuck between their children’s health and education, and anxiously trying to understand the new school calendars issued almost every day and to plan what to do amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
STUDENTS’ LACK OF ACCESS TO INTERNET AND COMPUTER SHOWS CLASS INEQUALITIES IN EDUCATION IN TURKEY
Turkey has ranked 64th out of 77 countries in access to a computer for schoolwork in a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regarding education in 2020 amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The report highlighted that Turkey’s ranking at the bottom end of the list reflects the lack of equal opportunities among students in the country.
According to the report, Turkey came in 70th in terms of internet access for students, falling closer to the end of the report’s list with countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. The report showed that the rate of students who have access to a computer remained below 70 percent.
In March 2020, parliamentary main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s Vice-President and Ankara Deputy, Yıldırım Kaya, had said, ‘‘There are 18 million 108 thousand 860 students within the scope of formal education in Turkey. The data we obtained indicates that 3 million 621 thousand 772 students cannot access the distance learning process via the internet. Students who do not have a TV at home are not included in this number.’’
Although the Turkish National Education Minister Ziya Selçuk also stated that 20 percent of students in Turkey have no access to the internet to get distance education in Turkey, experts say this number is much higher than the official statistics.