Turkey‘s seemingly never-ending political upheavals leave little room for discussion of other equally important issues, such as education.
The value of education to Turkish society can never be overstated; it is particularly critical at times of crisis, when competency and rational thinking are needed more than ever.
The subject of education may draw little debate in Turkey, but it has always been a key battleground.
President Erdogan, who aims to raise a pious generation, has achieved more than any other leader to reform Turkey’s education.
Between 2010 and 2014, the number of specialist religious schools, known as Imam Hatips, increased by 73%. During the AKP rule, the number of students attending these seminaries reached almost a million.
If the closure of 15 universities and around 1,000 secondary schools after the botched coup is anything to go by, about 200,000 others attended alternative educational establishments linked to Fethullah Gulen, another Islamist ally-turned-enemy.
Under the AKP governments, the whole education system was overhauled; text books were rewritten, curriculum revised.
Those demanding secular, modern and scientific education were quickly subdued.
Ideologically driven, radical interventions in education have visibly changed the educational landscape in Turkey, producing greater uniformity and piety.
A report published by OECD on 15 September 2016 has put the issue of quality and equity of Turkey’s education system once more under the spotlight.
Titled “Education at a Glance 2016”, this year’s report compared the 35 OECD member countries, as well as some others, based on their national statistics on educational attainment.
According to the report, between 2008 and 2013, Turkey considerably increased its expenditure per student but still scored among the lowest across OECD and its partner countries.
Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek has expressed satisfaction for Turkey having now reached the OECD average in total public expenditure in relation to its gross domestic product (GDP). Yet, he did not comment why the increased funding alone was not enough for an improvement in the quality of education.
The OECD report has also shown that gender gaps in education and employment in Turkey were significantly higher than the average across the OECD countries. Turkey had the highest share of 20-24-year-old women neither in employment nor in education or training.
Women that received the same education as men ended up earning only 84% of what men earned in employment.
For a relatively fast growing economy with a strong infrastructure and high ambitions, clearly Turkey needs to do better.
Economic, political, cultural challenges of today’s modern society require more than loyalty and piety.
Spending more on education is not good enough. In order to compete, it has to also improve the quality and equity of its labour force. Turkey cannot afford to waste the potential of its female population by pushing them back into their homes.
This post is also available in: Turkish