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As one of the most widespread public services and one of the most fundamental human rights, which is carried out in a planned and organised manner, explaining the present state of education in Turkey, various educational strategies from the past to the present, the difference and quality of education in various regions on the basis of existing information will enable us to reach a more reliable verdict.

Primarily looking into the philosophical approach that the education system is based in Turkey will offer us some ideas about the general framework.

The general aims of Turkish National Education in the Turkish National Education Fundamental Law starts as follows;

The general aim of the National Education is to;

“Bring up individuals as citizens loyal to Ataturk’s reforms and principles and Ataturk’s nationalism as epitomised in the Constitution, who adopt, nurture and protect the Turkish nation’s moral, humane, cultural and national values, love his family, country, nation and seek to exalt it higher, who is conscious of his  duties and responsibilities to the Republic of Turkey which is a democratic, secular and welfare state as defined by human rights and the introductory fundamental principles of the constitution and adopt them as part of his life.”

 In continuum; “Thus increase the prosperity and happiness of the citizens of Turkey and the Turkish Society whilst on the other hand to support and accelerate the economic, social and cultural development in a national comprehension and unity and finally to enable the Turkish Nation to become constructive, creative, eminent partners of modern civilisation.”

Turkish system of education is organised in such a manner to achieve these general aims as defined in the national Fundamental Law. These aims, which lays the basis of the System of education in Turkey is not compatible with the social realities in Turkey. Right at the introduction, the aim of bringing up her citizens as individuals loyal to Ataturk’s nationalism forms a clear contradiction with social reality of Turkey which consists of multitude of nationalities, cultures, ethnicities, and beliefs and forces the multicoloured social texture of Turkey into one single mould.   

This educational policy which had been in practised right from the beginning of the Republic and overlaps with the unitary structure of the state has systematically assimilated the varying languages and cultures in the unitary educational mentality. 

In actual fact, the educational policy in Turkey has always been a problematic and awkward subject. One government after another have dealt with the constitutional problems of education whilst turning the system of education into an element of state’s security concept in practice.

Governments have never been successful in disciplining the system of education in Turkey and all the developed models relevant to education have been short-lived. Whilst on the one hand in the process of integration with the west Turkey have found herself face to face with impositions and adopted their systems without laying down the necessary infrastructure for them, the social realities of the country were ignored and in fact, an educational policy was intended to be enforced in order to destroy the very same social realities.  

This contradictory situation has continued up until the present. A dogmatic and sexist educational policy, which is not based on a comprehensive planning and is far from social realities, and has become an instrument of state’s fundamental paradigm, with disregard to the requirements of the production process, without any vision for the future, which denied the existence of the multitude of nationalities, ethnicities and religious beliefs and mortgaged the preferences of the individuals, thus essentially anti-democratic, has always preserved its presence.   

The state has always shouldered the burden of this distorted and unrealistic system of education. From the beginning of the foundation of the Republic, the share of education in the general budget has always been in very small proportions. Governments that had not spared sufficient budgets for education were unable to build sufficient number of classes, appoint well trained teachers, supplied necessary educational equipments and technologies, and instead a deformed system of elimination, which did not support the requirements of production, has added hundreds of thousands of young and dynamic people to the ranks of unemployment. Only those intend to go to university has reached two million in numbers. 

For years the syllabus for education has been detached from reality and science. The syllabus have always been prepared in such a way that was impractical, curbed critical thought and creativity, that was based solely on the history, culture, religion, beliefs and other sets of values of Turks as if no other nation has ever existed in the geography that is called Anatolia, hence did not have beliefs and had not founded other civilisations other than Turks. 

The Turkish system of education has always kept the students passive and regarded them as the subjects that are to be shaped and disciplined. The products of this teacher and system based educational strategy that had been in practice for decades has been diffident, unimaginative, unconfident masses of individuals who lacked analytical spirit and failed to implement humane and democratic values.     

Educational policies in Turkey have varied from region to region. Whilst in relatively industrialised regions with higher income the education has advanced both in level and quality, the opposite of it has been the state of affairs in regions with poorer levels of income.

The region in Turkey, where the system of education encounters the greatest problems and hardships is Kurdistan. Kurds, who live in this geography, do speak a different language than the Turkish, which is the official language of the Turkish system of education. The culture, history and social lifestyle that Kurds have formed through millennia have set them apart from all the other peoples, who live in Turkey.

The problems the education encounter in Kurdistan, which Turkish officialdom calls Eastern and South-eastern regions is multidimensional. The most important of all is the fact that they are deprived of the right to education in their own language.

A person’s right to education in their mother tongue is generally accepted as one of the most fundamental of all human rights. The individual starts hearing the language surrounding him whilst he is still in his mother’s womb and this is how his personality shapes up, enabling him to build his knowledge of the world and environment with this language. This natural process is the same with Kurds too. However, as soon as they start going to school, Kurdish children (as well as other non-Turkish ethnicities of Anatolia) are unable to use the language they learn until they are 5-6 years of age. Their inability to speak their own language brings about a load of problems with it. For instance;     

-         The Kurdish children of 5-6 years of age cannot turn the wealth of knowledge they have accumulated in their own language to a base of their further education. In other words, Kurdish children are being included in the process of education with zero knowledge.

-         Having being educated in Turkish language, Kurdish children fail in their subjects for not knowing this language, hence they are 5-6 years behind the children who have education in their own language and the gap is widening in due course.

-          On completion of their education, children half-learn Turkish.

-         Children who are educated in a language they do not know at all fail in establishing communication with their peers and teachers, which in turn cripples their social lives.

-         Due to the inability to speak Turkish well, Kurdish children who more frequently speak a language other than their mother tongue face difficulty in expressing themselves. As a result of failing to express himself properly, the individual loses confidence and becomes increasingly anti-social.  

-         Having been educated in the existing system, Kurdish children who lack confidence and social skills encounter psychological discomfort and trauma.

-         Due to the inability to be educated in their mother tongue, Kurdish children fail in education, which in turn weaken the families’ and failed children’s interest in education. It is for this reason that in advancing years of education, further study drops amongst Kurds.

-         In the face of their failure in establishing communication with their pupils, teachers fail in their careers; in turn their morale gets adversely affected.

-         Due to education not being made in their mother tongue in Kurdistan, education plans do not fulfil the aims they seek.   

-         Parents who cannot speak Turkish cannot cooperate with the school administration and teachers and fail to contribute to their child’s education.

-         In failing to get any help with their lessons from parents, children start regarding them as ignorant people, which adversely affect the mutual trust within the members of the family.

One of the problems of education in Kurdistan is the lowest imaginable level of schooling. From the beginning of the foundation of the Republic, governments have always avoided facing the problems of education in the region, as if leading the way to undermining the education of Kurds. The share of the region within the education budget has always been way behind other regions.

In a study, carried out by Hacettepe University Statistical Studies Department, entitled; “An examination of Primary and Secondary Education in Turkey Proper and Proposals to Solve Determined Problems”, which was sponsored by TUBITAK [1] , the data was examined regarding the resources, number of teachers, classrooms, computers per pupil and the spending on education at Primary and Secondary schools in all the regions and the truth regarding education in Kurdistan has surfaced.  

The research study revealed that regarding the secondary education alone, at district level the worst provinces are Ardahan, Muş and Şırnak.

Taken together the resources for education in Primary and Secondary education in the so-called South-Eastern part of Kurdistan, there is no district at all where educational resources can be defined as good. Where the resources for education can be described as good in North-Eastern Anatolian districts rated at 3,51%, the same ratio is 8,57 in the central-Eastern Anatolia.

A conclusion was made that at 97.40% of resources for education in the region called South-Eastern Anatolia were defined as “bad”, whereas no district in Istanbul was defined as bad in terms of resources for education. Whilst it was revealed that 68.75% of resources for education in the districts of Istanbul were defined as “good” and a further 31.25% were marked as “average” level, the primary education resources in all of the districts of the so-called South-Eastern Anatolia part of Kurdistan were described as bad and 76% of secondary school resources in the same region were also defined as “in a bad state”

Provinces where in all districts primary education resources were defined as bad are: Adıyaman, Ağrı, Batman, Bitlis, Diyarbakır, Gaziantep, Iğdır, Kahramanmaraş, Kars, Kilis, Mardin, Muş, Siirt, Şanlıurfa, Şırnak and Van. All of these provinces are within the geographic area of Kurdistan.

The research concluded that in 9.64% of all pupils being educated in primary education schools across Turkey classes are merged and reportedly this proportion is 21.90% in North-Eastern Anatolia, 17.54% in South-Eastern Anatolia, and 16.34% in Central-Eastern Anatolia.

Reportedly, 48-72 month long Schooling at the pre-primary school stage has reached 27% in 2007-2008, 33% in 2008-2009. Across the country-proper and within 1 year period, the number of provinces below 25% 48-72 month schooling has dropped from 26 to 8. However, the gap between provinces continues to exist. Where schooling rate is at 14% in Van, in Amasya [2] it is 77%. 

Yet another research shows us this numerical reality. Whereas there are 24 students per classroom in Western Black Sea Region, the figure for South-Eastern Anatolia is 44 per classroom. 

The table that we witness in primary and secondary education in Kurdistan is similar in higher education too.

Despite universities having been opened up in all provinces of Kurdistan, physical resources, academic staff, student population potentials, equipment, materials, budgets and faculties, colleges of these universities are well below the average of Turkey.

We witness a situation that by the time the Kurdish students reach the higher education age, they have already left for reasons to do with poverty, trying to contribute to the family budget, failure and so on. The figure of candidates for university in Turkey is close to two million. Almost all of those who have any credible claim on securing a place in the university can only do this through private courses preparing them to exams. Compared to the rest of Turkey those with lower income who live in the region are stretching their limited resources to send their children to private courses. Apart from a small number of exceptions, students, who cannot afford private courses, end up failing university entrance exams.

The biggest downtrodden of the education in Kurdistan are girls. As they grow older, they tend to be forced to abandon their education for reasons to do with the educational policies of the state and some socio-cultural matters. The level of education amongst Kurdish girls is way, way below the Turkish average. For instance the report, entitled “Equality in Education” drawn up by Educational Reform Initiative (ERG) of Sabanci University states the following; 220,000 of children between the ages 6-22 are not registered in the system of education. 130,000 of them are girls, of which 100,000 are living in Central-Eastern and South-Eastern Anatolia. As the primary education reaches further years, the number of girls participating in education, drops. Whereas in year 1 of the primary education the ratio of boy/girl is 0.96, it drops to 0.91 at year 8.  

In 2009 the education budget has allocated 66% to salaries, 7% to social security departments, 10% to purchase goods and services and the remaining 17% is allocated to capital transfers, current account transfers and capital expenses. Whilst the national education budget did not make any allocation for schools, in turn schools illegally collect fees from students. Especially during school enrolment periods schools demand enormous fees and those parents who are unable to pay these fees end up having difficulty in enrolling their children to schools of their preference. In places heavily populated by Kurds, this situation is even more apparent. 

Some settlements of Kurdistan are still deprived of schools. Instead of opening up schools, appointing teachers, successive governments follow suit in favour of the state policies and look for new methods of assimilating people. One of these methods was the “Leyli İptidai ” (boarding schools), which were introduced at the turn of the foundation of the Republic. 

Whilst from the foundation of the Republic until 1940’s the state was pursuing the policy of denying education to some settlements, later this policy was changed in favour of widening the assimilation policy.

As part of the assimilation policy the state started recruiting students, especially girls but Kurdish children of very small ages, snatching them from the bosoms of their families and placing them in Regional Boarding Primary Education Schools (YIBO). Regional Boarding Primary Education Schools were a part of “Rehabilitation of the Orient Plan” Article 14 of this plan clearly reveals the intention in opening Regional Boarding Primary Education Schools in Kurdistan.

“In this region where the population is originally Turkish but has a tendency to be assimilated into Kurdishness and in Siirt, Mardin, and Savur, where the people speak Arabic, Turkish Cultural Associations and schools should be opened and every effort should be dispensed, sacrifice made especially in order to establish excellent girls schools and efforts made to encourage girls to attend to these schools. Particular efforts should be preferentially and urgently spent to open up Boarding schools to prevent dissolution into Kurdishness in Dersim.

Today YIBO’s are nearly in every province and district in Kurdistan and the education in them resembled military training. Ex-Army administrators were appointed to these schools, educating the students in a military fashion, subjecting those to military barracks discipline and destroyed their tender souls. 

Far from their warm homes and families, these kids, who were unable to meet their most basic needs were educated and sheltered in these schools. They were housed in camp-like, wire-fenced schools, nurtured with food prepared by inattentive amateurs and slept in unhygienic places. For instance, having difficulty in going to the toilet by themselves, some 6-7 years old kids wet their beds and due to fear from their supervisors, were reluctant to report it and ended up going back to these urinated beds.   

It is so disturbing even to imagine what kind of personalities these children have developed after being unable to comply with the needs of their own hygiene, being undernourished, being subjected to violence and ill-treatment of older children and their supervisors and became the object of harshest of all discipline

In fact, apart from exceptions, other state schools provide education in Kurdistan with the same mentality as YIBO’s. Although in recent years there is a drop in such incidents, the number of people who were subjected to insults merely for not speaking or being able to speak Turkish is still quite high. Yet again, despite new educational models are being introduced, we still witness the hegemony of harsh discipline and old fashioned teachers and their methods at schools. At present a large majority of students are subjects of violence and abuse in the hands of their teachers, seniors and peers. Although the same is also felt in Turkey, the level of violence in education has always been at the uppermost level in Kurdistan.

It is possible to refer to heaps of deficiencies both in educational policies as well as in practice. We would like to suffice with this much and point out to other dimensions of educational policies.

Most educational institutions in Kurdistan are very old constructions. There is shortage of classrooms, whereas units such as; labs, workshops, libraries, canteens, sports and conference facilities are non-existent.

Successive governments do not consider reconstructing these age old schools according to the educational needs and characteristics of these settlements. Although it has been known that some steps are taken in this direction, they are far from meeting the needs.

Shortage of teachers is another frustrating problem. Not only there has always been a shortage of teachers to fill all the needs but also those being appointed are the newly graduated teachers on work experience, without necessary qualifications and experience behind them. As soon as they complete their compulsory service, they request their relocation elsewhere. There has never been a case, which ability to speak Kurdish has been a matter to be considered for appointment.  

Within the system of education, appointments of the administrative senior staff are made without consideration to eligibility and experience. Administrative appointments are always made in accordance with affinity to the party in power and loyalty to the state.

There is of course some visible improvement in practice and some reforms were carried out in the Turkish system of Education in general terms. However, the basic reason for the hardships in education is the existing educational philosophy, strategy and policies that shape up the Turkish system of Education.  

In conclusion;

It will not be possible to reach out and catch up with present humane and universal norms and standards of the world without determining an all-comprehensive educational policy, by shaping up the education on a syllabus that does not disregard the rights and needs of all national, ethnic, cultural and belief groups living in the country, without drawing up a strategy that will overlap with the said syllabus and without allocating sufficient resources to the education from the country’s income.

[1] Turkey Scientific and Technical Research Institution, Official R&D Institution of Turkey

[2] An Eastern and a North-Western provinces respectively

PSK Bulten © 2009