Fri, 04 Dec 2020

ISTANBUL, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a "substantial reform" in the country's education system, focusing less on materialistic issues and more on conservative values.

"I think we have not attained the progress we desired in education and culture," he said during a speech on Monday in Istanbul's Ibn Haldun University, where he inaugurated a new complex, noting that "we need to make a total education and training reform."

The Turkish leader, who is at the helm of the ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), noted that the education system, mostly funded by public sources, had been left behind the progress.

Erdogan said the current educational system is based on students obtaining materialistic information and insisted that the priority should be given to the family and its moral values.

"All we need is to raise people who know their values well and protect their culture and history," Erdogan said in reference to moral, religious values. "What we need is not imitation, but an innovation that is inspired by tradition."

In the past 15 years, the ruling party has made several major changes in the education system, which is, however, riddled with serious structural problems as students are lacking some fundamental skills, according to reports.

Changes made over the years have brought new challenges to a flawed system which, observers argue, lacks critical thinking and lags behind European countries.

Turkey ranks 40th in reading, 42nd in mathematics and 38th among 78 countries in sciences, scoring lower than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average, according to a 2018 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report.

To improve education quality and increase participation rates, legislation was introduced in 2012 to increase the number of compulsory years from eight to twelve and to redefine the education system into three levels (primary, lower and upper secondary education) of four years each.

Erdogan has, in the past, called for the creation of a "pious generation" focusing on religious vocational schools and presented a strong education system as a "must-have" for a secure national future.

As educators praise Erdogan's call for reform, they also have question marks on the scope and content of this move, which could be a new divider between supporters of conservative and secular education.

"If this reform is supposed to increase the quality of education and create equal opportunities for all students, we are all for it," Belgin Atay, an education expert in an Ankara private school, told Xinhua.

This seasoned specialist of educational methods called on authorities to make the system easier with fewer exams and admission tests, thus reducing the overall stress witnessed by both students and parents.

Turkey has a higher-than-average proportion compared to European nations of under-performing students, and academic achievement is particularly low amongst disadvantaged students from low socio-economic backgrounds, Atay remarked.

"We have to work together as parents, education experts, and government officials to make sure that our children receive the most adequate education they deserve," she added.

Meanwhile, to highlight its political determination, the Turkish presidency on Sunday submitted a motion to parliament for the nation's 2021 budget, allocating the lion's share to education with 211.4 billion Turkish liras (26.5 billion U.S. dollars.)

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities and funding in this sector in Turkey with the introduction, like in many other nations, of remote education for tens of millions of pupils.

Observers believe, however, there is still room for development as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's 26 percent threshold for funding in the educational sector is yet to be met.

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