PM Erdoğan’s arguments on prep schools contradict statistics, facts

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Date posted: November 21, 2013


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a live TV interview on Wednesday night that his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will not back down from its decision to close prep schools and listed his government’s arguments, many of which contradict official data, statistics and results of surveys carried out on the issue.

During the interview, Erdoğan asserted that the initiative to close prep schools is not new, but that it dates back to an earlier period of AK Party rule as part of a broader plan to “transform” the once-dysfunctional education system and showed some data prepared by his bureaucrats to justify his government’s move.

Erdoğan’s statements came at a time when the whole country has been locked in a debate surrounding the closure of prep schools and its implications on the education system with education professionals, legal experts, economists, politicians raising their voice against the closure of these institutions.

One of the leading arguments voiced by Erdoğan during the program for the closure of prep schools was that prep schools are not accessible to low-income families and that they are mostly preferred by students with high-income. However, research carried out by the Education Ministry, the All Private Education Institutions Association (TÖDER), the Private Courses Union (ÖZ-DE-BİR) as well as the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) does not support his argument.

According to surveys carried out by TÖDER and ÖZ-DE-BİR, 85 percent of the families who send their children to prep schools are low-income families. Another report by SETA also shows that the majority of students who attend such schools are either from middle- or low-income families. Furthermore, according to relevant regulation on prep schools, these institutions are obliged to provide a full scholarship for 3 percent of their students. Prep school owners say this figure exceeds 10 percent every year. According to this data, nearly 200,000 students attend these schools with a full scholarship every year.

During the interview, Erdoğan also argued that public education has significantly improved in Turkey in the past years and that there is not the need for prep schools. However, as national university and high school exams exist with nearly 4 million students preparing for these exams every year in total, the need for prep schools does not seem to be decreasing. The fact that the Education Ministry plans to open public education centers that will provide free supplementary courses to replace prep courses is also a sign that even the government acknowledges that the need for prep schools will not disappear.

The Education Ministry’s “2010 Internal Audit Activity Report,” released in March 2011, also supports this argument. The ministry experts who compiled the report emphasize that shutting down prep schools will not help address current problems in education.

In the same vein as objections raised by the opponents of the draft law seeking to shut down the centers, the report notes on page 76: “The private prep schools issue in Turkey and the problems they are believed to have caused cannot be solved by their abolishment or by closing them down. It is obvious that they will go underground and continue to exist in the event that they are closed down through an administrative change.

“This point has been expressed by various agencies and institutions. In the end, there will be a selection process in any system that has an examination and the system of private courses/private tutoring will exist in any system based on selection. For this reason, the first step to address the issue should be to prevent the large number of students who are waiting to be admitted into universities. Without easing the pressure on university entrance, no other measures will bring results.”

Closure of prep schools not included in party program

During the interview, Erdoğan also asserted that the initiative to close prep schools dates back to an earlier period of AK Party rule as part of a broader plan to transform the once-dysfunctional education system. “This issue was included in our party’s programs. It is not something new,” he said.

However, such a plan is not included in the AK Party’s program posted on the party’s website. The program, on the contrary, calls for incentives for the private sector to encourage them to make investments in education.

A plan to “transform” prep schools into private schools is only included in the government’s 9th Development Plan published in the Official Gazette on July 1, 2006. The 599th article of the plan states that incentives will be provided for prep schools to enable their transformation to private schools. But there is no further detail on how this transformation will take place.

Data given to Erdoğan by his bureaucrats on which students prefer to attend prep schools also contradict with some other surveys. Statistics Erdoğan revealed on Wednesday night say 91 percent of students from science high schools and social sciences high schools attend prep schools. He also said 95 percent of Anatolian high school students attend these schools. These three schools are considered the most successful state schools in university admission exams. Erdoğan said only 18 percent of vocational high school students attend prep schools, arguing that prep schools do not make miracles as they are already preferred by successful students.

However, results of a May 2012 survey by polling company IKSara again contradicts with statistics given to Erdoğan. According to this survey, 45 percent of vocational high school students attend prep schools. The same survey also shows that students of private schools prefer prep courses most, followed by students of Anatolian high schools and science high schools.

Thousands to lose jobs

One of the most frequently voiced concerns by opponents of the closure of prep schools is that such a move will lead thousands of teachers and other workers to lose their jobs. Commenting on these concerns on Wednesday night, Erdoğan said the state would employ these teachers at state schools with just an interview without any written exam. Some 60,000 teachers will lose their job if the prep schools are closed.

According to the draft prepared by the Education Ministry on the closure of prep schools, only the teachers who have five years’ experience and who are over 40 will be hired by the state. However, the number of teachers who comply with these conditions does not even reach 10,000. In addition to these teachers, some 40,000 people employed at prep schools as security guards, janitors, cafeteria operators will also lose their jobs.

Sanctions for not closing

During his speech, Erdoğan also confirmed the initial report published by the Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies on Nov. 14, which said the government plans to impose sanctions on the prep schools that do not turn into private schools.

Although the Zaman report — which said prep schools will be given three years to become private schools and if they don’t transform themselves into private schools during this period of time, a fine ranging from between TL 500,000 and TL 1 million will be imposed on them — was denied by the Education Ministry, Erdoğan confirmed that those which remain open will be penalized. “Those who do not comply with this transformation will face sanctioning. The work is under way on this issue,” Erdoğan said.

Lack of consultation with prep school owners

The issue of prep schools concerns millions of students and thousands of prep schools. However, the lack of consultation with these parties raises concerns.

During Wednesday’s television program, Erdoğan said the draft on the prep schools was discussed at the latest Cabinet meeting on Monday and that he asked the bureaucrats who prepared the draft to improve the report after meeting with relevant NGOs on the issue and to bring the final version to the next Cabinet meeting on Dec. 2.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç also said after Monday’s Cabinet meeting that the government will reconsider the issue after meeting with relevant parties. However, representatives of the prep school sector complain that they were able to meet with Education Ministry officials and see the draft just one day before the Cabinet meeting. They say none of the concerns they voiced during their meeting with Education Ministry officials were included in the draft discussed in Cabinet.

It also looks impossible for such a detailed issue to be discussed with all parties involved until the next Cabinet meeting.

During the interview, Erdoğan also dismissed accusations that the move is a violation of the right to free enterprise. “How on earth can this be limiting free enterprise? We are showing them [prep schools] ways for a solution,” he said.

However, the closure of prep schools is against Article 48 on the freedom of employment “Everyone has the freedom to work and conclude contracts in the field of his/her choice. Establishment of private enterprises is free,” states Article 48. Jurists say it is unacceptable for the state to limit work of free enterprises.

Source: Today's Zaman , November 21, 2013

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