Questions for the government regarding prep school closure

Bulent Kenes
Bulent Kenes


Date posted: November 26, 2013

BÜLENT KENEŞ

What we have concluded after discussing the government’s plan to shut down prep schools for the past 12 days is that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is resolved to proceed with the plan.

In this process we have understood that no argument about prep schools’ contributions to education, pedagogy, the principle of equal opportunity and the society is of any value in the eyes of Prime Minister Erdoğan. We have also seen how he does not pay any heed to the argument that the state’s forcing prep schools to close down would violate free enterprise, fundamental rights and freedoms and the rule of law.

No clear plan has been voiced so far about how to fill the gap left by prep schools — which have emerged as a free market solution to the tremendous problems paralyzing the country’s national education system, which gives the impression of being in a total wreck. The prime minister and the education minister have adopted a polemical and demagogic discourse in the face of people’s rightful concerns and warnings reported in the media, and their attitude implies they have set off, not to eliminate the problems in the education system, but to deal a blow to the Hizmet movement which, as an education-oriented civil society organization, controls 25 percent of the prep schools sector. At least, this is exactly how the government’s plan to shut down prep schools is perceived by a significant proportion of the society.

It is for this reason both the prime minister and education minister are obliged to make remarks about the plan. But their remarks tend to contradict with each other. Thus, yesterday the education minister came up with an ingenious plan proposing to convert prep schools into public education centers, having previously suggested transforming them into private schools and open high schools. I think the government takes this “transformation” business very seriously. They see the people and teachers involved in the prep school business as “something that can be transformed into anything.”

It appears that the proposal — tossed around in the social media — to “turn the buildings vacated by prep schools into wedding ceremony halls” hasn’t made the agenda of the prime minister and education minister. Yet they should catch up with this proposal immediately. Given the fact that our government has come up with marriage incentives for those who would like to marry while studying, why shouldn’t it turn prep schools into wedding halls for the wedding ceremonies of the couples — who are supposed to produce at least three children?

On the other hand, the government gives the impression of being in a deplorable state by doing belatedly what it should have done in the beginning. It tries grudgingly to perform the consultations it should have already done. In these so-called consultation meetings, it tries to convince the stakeholders of the prep school business about the unjustly taken decision, instead of lending an ear to them. In fact, the verb “tries” remains somewhat an understatement to describe what the government is doing. Actually, the government has passed an unfair and unlawful capital punishment decision about the sector and is now forcing the actors of the sector to keep silent about the fate that awaits the education sector and society and settle for the death penalty.

When people nurture hundreds of questions and doubts about the government’s plan, it is not easy for the government to persuade the public about its unfair fait accompli. In my opinion, the prime minister and education minister should not try in vain. Let them act with the requirements of their patronizing governance mentality and let them dictate whatever they wish without bothering to pretend to consult anyone. As they can see, the society has matured enough not to be deceived by cover-ups, pretense and justifications. Really, why do you make fun of people’s intelligence although your real intention is so obvious and you have already made up your mind? What you plan to do is an obvious error. Don’t you see that the only thing you should do is to rectify that error?

The questions Zaman newspaper published on Monday are still unanswered by the government and this is sufficient evidence that the government proceeds with a grave error. No one knows the answers to the questions posed by Zaman newspaper. And we need to bring those questions to the agenda until we get sincere and true answers that are satisfactory to the masses. So I would like to place greater emphasis on these questions. For example:

Is the best policy to shut down prep schools while there are more serious problems that need attention such as the tremendous problems in Turkey’s education system, such as the lack of proper infrastructure and personnel, drug and alcohol use among students, violence, etc.?

There are great gaps in the quality of education between state schools. Yet all students are supposed to answer the same questions in centrally administered exams. How will the government eliminate the “opportunity gap” that will result from the closure of prep schools?

High-income families already send their children to private schools or pay for private tutors. What will low-income families who cannot do this do?

The Private Prep Schools Union has announced that only 5 percent of the existing 3,858 prep schools are fit for conversion into private schools. What will happen to the teachers and other employees of the remaining prep schools?

There are more than 250,000 candidate teachers who wait to be appointed to state schools in Turkey. Although the state is unable to appoint these teachers, how can it recruit 50,000 teachers who are currently working the prep schools?

Against which criteria will these teachers be recruited? Why will these teachers from prep schools be interviewed before being recruited while other candidate teachers are recruited by a centrally administered exam?

Prime Minister Erdoğan says they will transform the education system just as they transformed the health sector. Did the transformation of the health sector start by shutting down private hospitals?

Currently, 40 percent of the private schools are vacant. The government says it will provide incentives to the prep schools if they choose to transform into private schools. Why doesn’t it lend support to the existing private schools?

It is said the government is planning to pay TL 1,500 per child who is sent to a private school. But how are families who cannot pay TL 2,000 to prep schools supposed to pay TL 15,000 to private schools?

Has the government taken into consideration the consequences of their plan in small settlements? For instance, there are four prep schools in Ortaca district (population: 26,000) of Muğla. Suppose these prep schools are converted into private schools. Is it possible for four private schools to have viable business in Ortaca?

Prep schools for foreign languages, music and painting will be allowed while prep schools for math, physics, etc., will be banned. Is this possible? Won’t this violate the constitutional principle of equality? What will happen if another ruling party decides to shut down courses for Holy Quran?

If the centrally administered university exam is abolished, which criteria will be used to select students for universities? If the scores given to students at schools will be taken as a basis, how does the government plan to deal with the artificially-inflated-scores problem?

Last year, 1,857,000 students took the university entrance exam. Thirty-one percent of them were high school graduates. How will these students prepare for the exam if prep schools are shut down?

Many more questions can be added to this list. But we know that the prime minister does not like to answer them and he is even not happy with reporters who ask questions. But will these vital questions go unanswered just because he does not like them?

Source: Today's Zaman , November 26, 2013


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