Another brick in the wall- where is the Turkish education system heading?

The Turkish education system has become a battlefield of both policies and ideologies in Turkey. The latest proof of that is the abolishment of the entrance exams for secondary education last month.

Education may have never been one of the strengths of the country, yet especially during the last years of the AKP government, several radical changes made in both the form and the content of the system as well as in technicalities such as entrance exams caused public critique. The criticism is directed at the lack of consistency and continuity in the education policy. Every couple of years, significant changes are being undertaken. No student of primary and secondary education of the last 15 years, was able to finish within the system s/he started in due to the constant changes. And, most of the changes do not even seem to have a positive effect on the quality of education. According to the results of the latest Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s PISA education test in 2016, Turkey dropped from its previous rank of 44th and ranked 50th within a group of 72 countries.

The latest change made is the abolishment of the entrance exam for secondary schools (TEOG). Just a couple of days after President Erdoğan had mentioned the need for canceling the exam during a TV show, bureaucrats of the Ministry of Education declared that “if the President said so, the need will be met”. TEOG had been in place for 4 years. Previously there were other centralized, nationwide tests with different names but similar content. The test was a must for those students who, after completing the 8th grade, wanted to continue their education at prestigious, foreign-language, and science schools (college, so called Anadolu Lisesi and Fen Lisesi) Parallel to the increasing number of religious vocational high schools (Imam Hatip Lisesi) and the shrinking number of regular high schools, demand for those schools to be entered with TEOG-like exams have increased throughout the last years. So did the competition. More than 1.2 million students have taken the last TEOG exam nationwide.  Although the (until recently) existing system used to be criticized for various reasons, its abolition created confusion, the most striking one being the question “with what will it be replaced?”. As of today, there is no answer to that.

Another serious criticism is related to the fact that the content of primary and secondary school curricula are getting more and more conservative, if not religiously oriented. Earlier this year, when topics on evolution theory and Darwin were abolished from school curricula, the opposition deemed the step as a symbolic struggle against secular values. The Islamic-religious concept of “Jihad” has been included into the curricula, on the grounds that it is important to teach the defense of a country. The government also argued that they did not want to leave the Jihad-narrative to Islamic radicals recruiting young people.  Examples from textbook excerpts with explicit conservative, militarist and sexist remarks are still the norm. The latest development in this respect is the implementation of a project called “Education of Values”. Even though compulsory religion lessons start at the 4th grade, the new project enables single Provincial Directorates of National Education to sign protocols with provincial Mufti offices to teach preschool children (4-6 ages) religion lessons, including the teaching of Quran and mosque visits, with the intention to “develop the students morally and culturally”.  Those lessons are not compulsory, but parents are worried that what seems to be a choice in theory, may easily be turned into an obligation. Teaching material and activities that will be used for these lessons will be under the supervision of the Offices of the Mufti, the chief religious authority of the Turkish state.