Returning to Turkish educational foundations:
Traditionalist, Constructivist and back to the East (Islamist?)
Some are voicing their concerns that Turkey’s educational system is a drift (in the ship that is the country as a whole). In this article we have drawn on several publications and authors to edit together an insightful, diverse and yet profoundly connected journey of mathematical education in Turkey.
- The Ottoman mathematicians’ history and educational context
- The Turkish War of Independence, birth of a Republic
- Suzan Kahramaner – Pioneering female mathematician in Turkish academia
- From Turkey to Tottenham, Rapper Tayfun valuing mathematical competence
- Turkish maths teachers’ approaches: Traditional or Constructivist
- Post-coup purge will affect Turkey's education sector for decades
- Headed East: Turkey’s Education System
- Returning to Turkish educational foundations? Your thoughts.
To begin, historical evidence shows that Turkey during the Ottoman empire were leaders in the fields of science, technology and mathematics. During this 600 year reign many new inventions and innovations flourished. Mathematics was at the core of the educational system, it was the only mandatory subject. Clearly during this time, a sense of exploration and ‘thinking outside the box’ existed in order for all these new innovations to happen. We will begin our journey here.
Insightful Extract 01:
Significant Ottoman Mathematicians and their Works, by Salim Ayduz [top]
Dr Salim Ayduz’s insightful paper on “Significant Ottoman Mathematicians and their Works” is focused on mathematicians in the Ottoman State over a 600 year period, from the period preceding the conquest of Constantinople to the early 20th century.
The Ottoman state began as a local principality at the turn of the 14th century. It became the most powerful state over a vast area extending from Central Europe to the Indian Ocean. During the 600 years of its existence, alongside the political events, the development of scientific and cultural activities played an important role globally. The Ottomans inherited scientific and cultural riches from the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation, from the 9th century onwards. With this legacy, they improved and established their own schools. Scientific activities emerged and developed from the base of the pre-Ottoman Seljukid period in Anatolian cites by benefiting from the works of scholars, who came from countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, India and Turkestan.
The first Ottoman school was built in Iznik (Nicea) in 1331 by the second Ottoman ruler Gazi Orhan Beg (c. 1326-1359) just after he conquered the city in 1331. Gazi Orhan Beg established many foundations in order to meet the financial needs of the madrasa. The Iznik madrasa trained the student in religious sciences (al-'ulūm al-diniyya) in their totality, and famous religious scholars such as Dāwūd al-Qaysarī (d. 1350), Tāj al-Dīn al-Garadī (d. c. 1360) and Ala al-Dīn Aswad (d. 1393) taught in this madrasa. After the conquest of Bursa and Edirne, new schools and other educational buildings such as medical institutes and primary schools opened and scholars started to flock to the Ottoman cities.
The turning point in the history of their madrasa teaching, the shift from the traditional Nizamiya madrasa system towards a more comprehensive institutional model took place during the time of Muhammad II. There are several reasons for this new orientation. First, it was the personal interest of the Sultan himself in the rational sciences and his support of the scholars; second, this new tradition seems to draw directly from the Ilkhanid and Timurid institutions of learning, which included the teaching of the rational sciences. Muhammad II founded the Fatih Complex, which bore his name, between 1463 and 1470. It included eight intermediate madrasas called ‘tatimma‘ and eight other high madrasas called ‘sahn‘ (literally courtyard).
The history of mathematical and astronomical literature during the Ottoman period records that numerous copies of astronomical and mathematical works were produced in the madrasa system. On the other hand, we note that from the 16th until the 19th century, there was an increase in the number produced.
After the conquest of Istanbul by Muhammad the Conqueror (1451-1481) in 1453, the Sultan himself began to set up a science centre in Istanbul. In the Library of the Palace of the Sultan, we find copies of numerous books about medicine, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy which were published in other countries during his time. During his reign, Muhammad II invited famous scholars to study in Istanbul at his Madrasas. During his reign, new educational institutions, such as the Sahn-i Sāmān Madrasas and the Enderūn Palace School in Istanbul, were established. As a result, some brilliant scholars emerged and made original contributions to science during his reign.
Muhammad II patronized Muslim and non-Muslim scholars in Istanbul and ordered Greek scholars to translate Ptolemy's Geography into Arabic and to draw a world map. In addition to Muslim scholars from the Muslim world, he also invited artists and scholars from Europe especially Italy.
In the Ottoman school system, mathematics and geometry were studied before the Hadith and the Quran studies, arithmetic had to be studied as a compulsory science by all Muslims. Such mathematical studies as arithmetic, geometry and astronomy courses were also taught unified with the courses of Hikma (wisdom) and Tafsir (explanation of the Quran).
In his book De La Littérature des Turcs, Abbé Toderini (lived in Istanbul between 1781 and 1786) stated that the Turks learnt arithmetic from well-written Turkish -Arabic course books and were as well informed as European mathematicians. In the geometry section of De La Littérature, Toderini describes geometry instruction in the Ottoman madrasas:
"Geometry falls under the group of Turkish studies. In academies (madrasa), there are professors (mudarris) for teaching it [geometry] to young people. The period between mathematics and rhetoric classes is allocated to this mathematical branch. This science is taught in a special manner. Dr Salim Ayduz went to the Valide Madrasa twice, during which time students had gathered to listen to the geometry class. They used an Arabic translation of Euclid. There are many versions as well as commentaries of this book. Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ţūsī's commentary, which is regarded as the best of these, has already become popular thanks to the Medicis Publishing House. This copy contains a copy of the Turkish license granted by Sultan Murad III (1574-1595) in Istanbul in 1587. He has granted permission for the sale of this book without any tax or liability within the entire Ottoman territory…".
The Ottoman scholars wrote many textbooks on mathematics and also translated other important ones written in other countries. They started to write arithmetic books from the beginning of the 15th century onwards. Arithmetical texts were translated into Turkish after those of astronomy, but before texts of geometry. Also these scholars were interested in logarithm because of the preparation of the star tables. They wrote and translated some books about logarithm. In 1780 Sekerzāda Feyzullah Sermed (d. 1787) translated the book entitled Maqsadayn fī Hall Al-Nisbatayn from a Hungarian mathematician.
The Hendesehāne-i Humayun (Royal Mathematical School) was the first institution that was designated for modern military technical education in the Ottoman State. The Hendesehāne, which was called the ‘Ecole des Théories‘ or the ‘Ecoles des Mathématiques‘ in French, was established at the Royal Shipyard on 29 April 1775. In addition to the Ottoman teachers, Baron de Tott and a French expert taught courses there. The Ottomans entered into war against Russia between 1787 and 1788, this marked a notable point of disruption in the cultural exchange relations with other parts of Europe.
Mathematical studies in the Ottoman State began with Ali al-Qushjī in Istanbul and continued until Salih Zeki's period. These works were divided into two styles: traditional and Western. The traditional ended with Gelenbevī's works and the Western style ended with with Salih Zeki's work.
To find out more about Ottoman mathematical works in manuscripts, one must research and analyse books on astronomy, geometry and cosmology as well. Some parts of these works contain very important and original areas of mathematics.
Clearly Ottoman scholars lived with a great respect for mathematics. They were well informed of the work of other scholars and they made many original contributions to mathematical research and education. Some of these contributions were translated into other languages and were used as textbooks. Traditionally all Ottoman mathematicians were also interested in other branches of science such as astronomy, science and engineering and made important contributions to these fields.
Let us now look at how the Ottoman empire state transformed into the modern republic of Turkey.
Insightful Extract 02:
The Turkish War of Independence, birth of a Republic (Wikipedia) [top]
The Turkish War of Independence (Turkish: Kurtuluş Savaşı "War of Liberation", also known figuratively as İstiklâl Harbi "Independence War" or Millî Mücadele "National Campaign"; 19 May 1919 – 24 July 1923) was fought between the Turkish National Movement and the proxies of the Allies – namely Greece on the Western front, Armenia on the Eastern, France on the Southern and with them, the United Kingdom and Italy in Constantinople (now Istanbul) – after parts of the Ottoman Empire were occupied and partitioned following the Ottomans' defeat in World War I. Few of the occupying British, French, and Italian troops had been deployed or engaged in combat.
The Turkish National Movement (Kuva-yi Milliye) in Anatolia culminated in the formation of a new Grand National Assembly (GNA; Turkish: BMM) by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues. After the end of the Turkish–Armenian, Franco-Turkish, Greco-Turkish fronts (often referred to as the Eastern Front, the Southern Front, and the Western Front of the war, respectively), the Treaty of Sèvres was abandoned and the Treaties of Kars (October 1921) and Lausanne (July 1923) were signed. The Allies left Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey decided on the establishment of a Republic in Turkey, which was declared on 29 October 1923.
With the establishment of the Turkish National Movement, the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, and the abolition of the sultanate, the Ottoman era and the Empire came to an end, and with Atatürk's reforms, the Turks created the modern, secular nation-state of Turkey on the political front. On 3 March 1924, the Ottoman caliphate was officially abolished and the last Caliph was exiled.
With the birth of a nation comes the resetting of “firsts”. Let us now follow the practice of mathematics through career of one of the first female maths educators in the new republic's new academia.
Insightful Extract 03:
Suzan Kahramaner – Pioneering female mathematician in Turkish academia (Wikipedia) [top]
Susan was 10 years old when the Republic in Turkey was established.
Suzan Kahramaner (May 21, 1913 – February 22, 2006) was one of the first female mathematicians in Turkish academia. Suzan Kahramaner began her graduate studies in 1934 in the Mathematics-Astronomy Department of Istanbul University. In 1943, she started her doctorate studies on Coefficient Problems in the Theory of Complex Functions with the advisor. Prof. Dr. Kerim Erim, the first mathematician in Turkey with a doctoral degree, who had completed his doctorate studies in Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany with his advisor Prof. Dr. Adolf Hurwitz Ord.
Kahramaner's doctoral thesis was entitled, Sur les fonctions analytiques qui prénnent la même valeur ou des valeurs donnés (ou en m points donnés) - “On the analytic functions that take the same value or given values (or in given m points)”. She wrote the thesis, Sur l'argument des fonctions univalentes - “On the argument of univalent functions”. for her Assistant Professorship and was consequently titled Assistant Professor the same year after she successfully passed the necessary exams. She was sent to Prof. Dr. Rolf Nevanlinna to Helsinki University for a year in January 1957 in order to do research on the Theory of Complex Functions.
Her Professorship thesis, entitled Sur les singularites d'une application différentiable (
On the singularities of a differentiable application) was accepted in 1968 and she received the title of Professor the same year. Suzan Kahramaner was awarded the War of Independence Sword by the Halic Rotary Club in the 75th celebration of the Turkish Republic. The bestowing of such an honour marks her very special roll in the history of the nation as a mathematician and as a female mathematician at that. Whilst it is probably beyond this article to introduce Kahramaner’s work on univalent functions we can perhaps bring forward a root meaning of “uni” “valence” and perhaps advance an interesting chemistry metaphor connected to the central theme of this article.
Uni = One
Valent = Power
In chemistry, the valence or valency of an element is a measure of its combining power with other atoms when it forms chemical compounds or molecules. The concept of valence developed in the second half of the 19th century and helped successfully explain the molecular structure of inorganic and organic compounds. The quest for the underlying causes of valence led to the modern theories of chemical bonding, including the cubical atom (1902), Lewis structures (1916), valence bond theory (1927), molecular orbitals (1928), valence shell electron pair repulsion theory (1958), and all of the advanced methods of quantum chemistry. When Kahramaner was born these ideas were new and over her career she saw their development and come to work on related maths.
To build our interesting metaphor we need to be a little informed of the basic valence rules which states that, elements gain or lose electrons to attain an electron configuration of the nearest noble gas structure to their own current structure. Noble gases are very stable as their outermost shell is completely full, it has 8 electrons that are paired. Nature expresses the structure we call atoms with an apparent tendency to move towards its nearest possible stable state; this is the 'Octet Rule' (the word Octet relates to 8, its etymology if from the mid 19th century; from Italian ottetto or German Oktett, on the pattern of duet and quartet). When elements bond so that the resulting compound has a full outer shell of paired electrons they are said to obey this 'octet rule', they are stable (not very reactive).
In the occupancy of the outermost shell, three expressions of electron occupancy are held to be the most stable, i.e the completely empty shell, the half occupied shell and the completed shell. These shell arrangements are now referred to as orbitals (a move away from the old ball and stick atomic modelling idea). In order to achieve these stable orbital (shell) arrangements, the electrically charged particles (atoms formed due to lose or gain of electrons) will exist in one of these three expressions; empty, half, complete. Getting to these stable states involves either the shredding/donating/sharing of the electron(s) or the accepting the electron(s). Thus, in order to attain stability, this tendency is expressed.
Assuming Turkey is moving towards stability our metaphoric question is: Is Turkey giving up part of its self structure or gaining new parts to its structure? [ ePoll ]
More on nature’s tendencies towards stability:
Metals lose all their valence electrons to fall back on the filled inner electron energy level. When metals, like magnesium, lose electrons in a chemical reaction, they become positively charged ions called cations (pronounced cat-ions). Magnesium has two valence electrons that it loses in a chemical reaction. When this occurs, magnesium becomes a cation with a +2 charge. It becomes charged +2 because it has 12 +protons but only 10 -electrons. Math will always enable you to determine the charge on an ion (12+) + (10-) = +2.
When naming cations, just write the name of the metallic element and add ion. As you can see in the above diagram, a magnesium atom becomes a magnesium ion when it loses 2 electrons.
Nonmetals gain valence electrons to complete their valence energy level. When nonmetals, like phosphorus, gain electrons in a chemical reaction they become negatively charged ions called anions (pronouced an-ions). Phosphorus has five valence electrons and will gain 3 more in a chemical reaction. When this occurs phosphorus becomes an anion with a -3 charge. It becomes charged -3 because it has 15 +protons but 18 -electrons. Math will always enable you to determine the charge on an ion (15+) + (18-) = -3.
Valance may seem like an academic point, however in truth in reflects a deep life poetry, a basis of root metaphor for growing wisdom. Today many people do not see themselves (or their children) as “academic”, a curious notion that denies and rejects something bound into the fabric of statutory education systems that national leaders and educationalist should think about carefully. In the time of the Ottoman empire (and in other regions, eras and traditions) the boundaries between “academic” and non-academic where not a real perceived point of concern. Older civilisations typically evolved family and community education with griot type persons facilitating the organic and unified flow of learning, the natural revolution of education; bringing out from the people pertinent insights, in good time.
Let us move now to a more youthful perspective. Even though they don’t typically use the term griot, for young people the culture of rap and the powerful delivery of “lyrics” is their connection to this ancient way; the storyteller, the warrior’s narration, the conveyor of folklore. In our next insight we’ll connect to that vibe through the rap flows of Tayfun.
Insightful Extract 04:
From Turkey to Tottenham, Rapper Tayfun valuing mathematical competence [top]
With his debut single Figo, Tayfun signifies the importance of education and in particular of mathematics. He highlights the importance of how many of our youth see mathematics: its practical use in a real world, “front-line” sense. He is extremely proud of his Turkish heritage, and rightly so. Turkey, as we have read earlier in this series of articles, has a magnificent history and has bought a wealth of knowledge to the world, in particular, in the field of mathematics.
Not only does Tayfun share his value of academic success he also shares his grasp of the genuine Turkish sounds of the saz guitar (Turkish bağlama). This instrument is the most commonly used string folk instrument in Turkey, the bağlama has seven strings divided into courses of two, two and three.
In the chorus of “Figo” he tell all to “Do the maths you know they're equal”, but as he unfolds his story we see:
“Left school with my grades
Hit the roads not afraid
All the time we never had
Went to prison I was mad”
A tragic reflection from inside the school-to-prison-pipeline. Even beyond the madness of a youth’s life on the frontline Tayfun arrives today at a more mature place “The world belongs to the patient mind, no point rushing when you’re young. Take your time, make everything neat.” - Tayfun. This wisdom accords with his playing of the saz guitar (Turkish bağlama). Maybe in his old school maths class (or madrasa) he was paying attention to the way Pythagoras worked on a lot of other mathematical ideas beyond right-angled triangle ratios.
It is said that Pythagoras insights include working out how long guitar strings need to be to create certain notes. Though now much of his insight can be attributed to his Ancient Egyptian teachers it is said that he found that mathematically, the note’s pitch is inversely proportional to the length of the string.
For example if we halve the length of the string, we create the exact same note, but one Octave higher.
This happens on a guitar when we play a note at the 12th fret. Positioning our finger at the 12th fret position, makes the string exactly half as long as its full length with no finger on any frets.
The Inverse Proportion means that if we play 1/2 of the string, we get 2 times the frequency of vibration of the string. This means the musical note gets “twice as big”, making it become the same note, but one octave higher.
Frequency (or how high the note pitch is) increases directly as the length of the string is decreased. This is the fundamental mathematics of all stringed instruments which it is said Pythagoras figured out.
There is more to mathematical expression than meets most peoples’ minds, though Tayfun’s rap, video gangsterism and big fur coat may not be everyone's cup of tea or pi, deep inside his maths are true and equal (in number, measure and ratio). These days many young people find themselves having to construct their learning and street knowledge in such crude ways as endless educational reforms move them like pawns, whilst neglecting their true essential needs and capacities as human beings.
Insightful Extract 04:
Turkish Mathematics Teachers’ Approaches: Traditional or Constructivist [top]
In our next insightful extract we will feature commentary from “The Educational Approaches of Turkish Pre-Service Elementary Mathematics Teachers in Their First Teaching Practices: Traditional or Constructivist” by Bekir Kürşat Doruk of Abant İzzet Baysal University, Turkey. Over the last two decades various European countries have been going through educational reforms, for Turkey a notable one was in 2005. The Turkish education system then tried to replace the traditional behaviourist teaching approach with one based more on constructivism. What do these terms mean and what was the result of the change process?
Constructivism pedagogy (approach to learning)
- Student centred
- Children learn by doing
- Learners asking questions is highly valued
- Teachers seek students point of view in order to understand students conceptions for use in subsequent lessons
- Students are viewed as thinkers with their own views on the emerging world
Traditional behaviourist pedagogy (approach to learning)
- Teacher centred
- Children learn by transfer of knowledge from teacher to student
- Strict adherence to fixed curriculum
- Teachers seek correct answer to validate learning
- Students are seen as ‘blank slates’ onto which information is eyched by the teacher
Bekir Kürşat Doruk’s review found that despite radical changes in Turkey’s education system, numerous problems pertaining to the implementation of curricular (pedagogy) reforms were encountered in schools, the actual use of new constructivism approaches remained very limited up to 2008 (Aykaç, 2007; Karadağ, Deniz, Korkmaz, & Deniz, 2008).
Doruk’s review involved interviews and a careful study of Turkish Pre-Service Elementary Mathematics Teachers in Their First Teaching Practices, the finding give important and interesting insights on the Turkish education system and society. To clarify the research context further In the Turkish education system, obligatory education consists of two stages (elementary and secondary). The first four grades (1–4) form the first stage of elementary school, whereas the last four grades (5–8) are called the secondary stage of elementary school. Pre-service mathematics teachers who graduate from EMTP work only in the secondary stage of elementary schools (5-8 grades) as a specialist in mathematics.
Following the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) publication of math education standards reflecting the constructivist approach (1989, 1991), constructivist curricula were developed in many countries, and this theory’s influence in the world of education grew greatly (Aldrich & Thomas, 2005; Umay 2007). The NCTM was founded in 1920 and is the world's largest mathematics education organization, with 60,000 members and more than 230 Affiliates throughout the United States, Canada and globally. Their mission statement is that the NCTM advocates for high-quality mathematics teaching and learning for each and every student.
Nearly fifteen years after the NCTM’s call, curricular reform began in Turkey in 2005. The Turkish education system tried to replace the traditional behaviourist teaching approach which is centred around the teacher and renders students passive, since it supposes learning to occur by means of the teacher transferring knowledge to passively listening students (Ministry of National Education [MNE], 2009).
Doruk’s review revealed that in general pre-service teacher’s epistemological beliefs and beliefs about learning and teaching mathematics are largely in line with constructivist theory. His interviews with them showed that their tendency for still using the traditional approaches in practice was due to:
- the influence of past educational experiences,
- the “frontline” teaching styles of in-service teachers working at practice schools and their negative opinions about constructivist approaches,
- the limitations of their university educations,
- their lack of experience, and
- choosing the easier option.
These are some of the numerous underlying challenges pertaining to the implementation of curricular (pedagogy) reforms that were encountered in schools, as stated the actual use of new constructivism approaches was very limited. Constructivist theory, which began to be shaped in the early twentieth century by scholars such as W. James, J. Dewey and L.S. Vygotsky and was particularly developed by the perspectives of Jean Piaget (Phillips, 1995; Wadsworth, 1996). It is based on the thesis that learners should acquire knowledge actively, and on the idea that students develop comprehension through experiences they relate to what they already know (Piaget & Inhelder, 1971). This approach asserts that acquired knowledge is constructed like a building in the mind, only its building blocks are relationships with prior learning experiences. Everyone forms these relationships between their own individual experiences, and learning is thus a personal matter. Constructivist theory consequently argues that direct knowledge transfer from one individual to another is impossible, and that knowledge is constructed as a result of personal effort (Brooks & Brooks, 1999; Glasersfeld, 1989; Glasersfeld, 1995; Phillips, 2000).
Toluk Uçar and Demirsoy (2010) have attempted to determine the extent to which math teachers in Turkey believe in the principles of the new curriculum and put these beliefs into practice. Here in Doruk’s study the participating pre-service teachers were determined by maximum diversity sampling, a purposeful sampling method and the guiding research questions were:
- What type of educational approach (traditional vs. constructivist) is used by Turkish pre-service elementary math teachers during their first teaching practices in real classrooms?
- What factors are responsible for such decisions?
Data Collection and Analysis:
As we can see, pre-service teachers’ opinions regarding knowledge and learning generally bear traces of the constructivist approach:
- “I mean, knowledge is something subjective. What you have as knowledge may not be knowledge for someone else. It is like something you feed and grow inside through your own experiences.”
- “I think knowledge is binding someone’s experiences together with ideas.”
First, pre-service teachers’ opinions on the best learning environment for effective math education were obtained. Nearly all the pre-service teachers expressed ideas in line with the requirements of the constructivist approach:
- Students should take part in the process.
- Students should be able to make sense of the subject in their minds. Rote-learning should be prevented by concretizing abstract concepts.
- The classroom environment should be organized to enable students to ask questions.
- Teaching should be tailored to the needs of individuals.
- Activities and materials should be used, and
- Students’ preparedness should be seen as important
Opinions on what is Necessary for Successfully Executing Math Teaching. Asked what should be done to enable students to be mentally and physically active and to learn by experiencing in math classes the majority of the pre-service teachers presented suggestions based on the constructivist approach. The pre-service teacher’s opinions on the influence of their educational lives before and during university on their preference of approaches that they exhibited as newly qualified teachers was also gained.
- “I can only say that we tend to do what has been done to us, we show what we have been shown, because children do what they see their fathers do.”
- “We were trained in teacher-focused environments. So everything in a classroom, say, the atmosphere, the arrangement, that blue colour, all these things take you into the past, to your background, and then you immediately become someone like your previous teachers.”
The pre-service teachers’ opinions about inadequate experience with constructivist approaches leading them to either hesitate to use them or gravitate towards traditional methods were also recorded. Following excerpt displays this line of reasoning. In addition, the majority of the pre-service teachers think that their lack of experience makes them gravitate towards using traditional approaches:
- “As I said, I was totally inexperienced in the management of a constructivist classroom, because I am not so well trained in this aspect. When a child says something, I do not really know how to react. This is why I did not take that risk, since I would not be able to establish authority. Otherwise, children would be too involved in the process. When this happens, first of all, you may lose your authority. I mean, this is a danger for the teacher. Second, they can ask questions that you cannot answer.”
- “Once you study how to lecture a subject then you can repeat it for years. A teacher talks about the same thing for years.”
Doruk found that one of the reasons behind this inconsistency may be related to the quality of university education. The prioritization of the theoretical side of the constructivist approach over the practical side may make integrating the teaching approach they believe in into their classroom practices a struggle for pre-service teachers. To solve this problem, as suggested by Aldrich and Thomas (2005), in PT training programs the pre-service teachers’ experiences as learners in constructivist environments should be prioritized as much as the meaning of constructivism. Since these experiences will conflict with their prior knowledge, it is important to enable them to reflect on constructivist knowledge through their own experiences.
Furthermore, some pre-service teachers stated that constructivism is only presented theoretically in faculties of education, while in practice traditional approaches are prevalent. These criticisms parallel Baştürk’s (2011) findings. Pre-service teachers also think that they are not well trained in the actual content knowledge they will use in their professional lives, and that necessary education about what they will teach in school is not provided by the university.
In addition, pre-service teachers are confused by the traditional approaches used in some of their university courses. For this reason, professors in teacher training programs should teach by designing learning environments that involve student-focused approaches and activities.
In other words, the core teaching/learning approaches that pre-service teachers have when they begin their university education grow during their university years, and the traces of their own school days remain undiminished, keeping them stuck in old paradigms.
If a serious effort is not made, this situation will turn into a vicious cycle, because the future students of pre-service teachers who fail to replace traditional behaviourist approaches entirely will also inherit these influences that yield less effective outcomes for learners.
As one of the pre-service teachers said, they see in-service teachers as more involved in the profession of teaching than university professors (as they are at the frontline), and thus they are likely to be affected more by their opinions and behaviours. While this fact can provide significant advantages for the training of pre-service teachers in other regions, this is not the case in Turkey because in-service teachers here are not competent enough in implementing constructivist approaches. Aykaç and Ulubey
Pre-service teachers are aware of the limitations of practices based on constructivist approaches. Although they noted these limitations in interviews, they did not say that such limitations led them to lean towards traditional approaches. It might be useful to enable them during their university years to get experiences with how to cope with these limitations. Pre-service teachers believe that the tests elementary school students have to take to get to high school play a significant role in the dominance of traditional approaches in schools.
Reflection, especially after teaching practice may be an effective way of changing pre-service teachers’ beliefs (Tillema, 2000). Thanks to discussions and thorough reflections after student teaching, outcomes that emerge as a result of the implementation of different approaches can be compared, and thus pre-service teachers can select the more useful one for students, even if it requires more work.
In conclusion, the findings of this research indicate that pre-service teachers aim to improve themselves and to implement student-focused and activity-based constructivist approaches; however, they struggle to achieve this aim in practice. If optimum conditions are set to enable them to convert these ideas into practice, it will be an important step to ensure our educational system’s successful transition from the traditional approach to an approach that meets contemporary requirements.
In the present study, we aimed at thoroughly investigating pre-service teachers’ preferences of teaching approaches (traditional or constructivist) in their first teaching experiences and the underlying reasons for these preferences. In one another study, the researchers may longitudinally investigate the development of pre-service teachers’ beliefs and preferences in the course of their teaching practices. In order to create a practical shift in the minds of pre-service teachers, another research based on planned interventions taking first experiences of pre-service teachers and their beliefs into account would be intriguing. Moreover, a new study of future graduates, who will have completed their elementary education according to the renewed curricula in 2005, can be compared with this study to gain more accurate insight into the impacts of pre-service teachers’ elementary school education on their approaches to teaching.
Insightful Extract 05:
Post-coup purge will affect Turkey's education sector for decades by Umar Farooq [top]
On 15 July 2016, a coup d'état was attempted in Turkey against state institutions, including the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The attempt was carried out by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces that organized themselves as the Peace at Home Council. They attempted to seize control of several key places in Ankara, Istanbul, and elsewhere, but failed to do so after forces loyal to the state defeated them. The Council cited an erosion of secularism, elimination of democratic rule, disregard for human rights, and Turkey's loss of credibility in the international arena as reasons for the coup.
The day after the coup attempt, 1,577 deans - working at nearly every university in the country - were forced to resign. An estimated 200,000 students were left in limbo after the closure of 15 universities and 1,043 private schools reportedly linked to Fethullah Gulen, the cleric the Turkish government blames for the putsch. More than 6,000 academics at 107 universities have since been fired as well, many accused of links to Gulen's movement or the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
"These last few months will have an impact on our society that will last for decades to come," said Ozgur Bozdogan, the head of Egitim-Sen, one of the country's largest teachers unions.
It's not just university students who are being affected by the sweeping post-coup measures. When primary and secondary students returned to school this year, they spent most of the first day watching videos about the "triumph of democracy" over the coup plotters, and speeches by Erdogan that equate the civilian counter-coup with historic Ottoman victories going back 1,000 years.
Meanwhile, authorities scrambled to find replacements for the nearly 30,000 teachers at the primary and secondary levels who had been suspended and another 30,000 who had been fired under emergency rule, accused of having ties to Gulen or the PKK. "People fear this climate, because they cannot really protest against this process; everyone fears losing their jobs," said Mustafa Turgut, a high school literature teacher in Istanbul. Turgut has no books to teach from, because the Ministry of Education has ordered a review of all textbooks for possible links to Gulen or the PKK.
"We have experienced a coup, and right now there is a sensitivity in our society," Muammer Yildiz, the deputy undersecretary of education said this month about the textbook restrictions. "We follow this sensitivity carefully." Millions of textbooks had to be reprinted for the new year, and 58 textbooks were banned.
In the last two years authorities have tried to alter the curriculum to be more conservative, cancelling programs such as concerts, plays and even student-run philosophy discussion groups. "But after the coup, the [AKP] has been taking bigger steps and faster steps to make these schools more conservative," Turgut said, "and now it is much easier to do, because you can link anyone against you to any terrorist organization, without any investigation.
It appears that Turkey’s education system may currently be locked in a cycle of fear and trauma. Reflecting on Insightful Extract 05 the words of one of the pre-service teacher interviewed, their words bring forward perhaps an analogy into the mind of the state leadership (who are to the state what a teacher is to a class of children);
“… When a child says something, I do not really know how to react. This is why I did not take that risk [of working in a constructivist way], since I would not [I fear] be able to establish authority. Otherwise, children would be too involved in the process. When this happens, first of all, you may lose your authority. I mean, this is a danger for the teacher. Second, they can ask questions that you cannot answer.”
If the leadership-mind of the Turkish state really resonates with this metaphor then obviously the cycle of fear and trauma are indeed in a grave place. On the other hand perhaps the recent valency moves (the shedding of unwanted “electrons”) is indeed a move to stability, a notion of stability that might romantically be viewed as a positive development back in the days of the Ottomans when “academic” brilliance appeared to sit neatly with “pious” governance or the governance of people towards being pious. As we will see the growing secular-religious divide in the education sector touches on the key question of epistemology (the theory of knowledge): What are the sources of knowledge and learning? Can one’s answer to this question be dictated to another?
Our final Insightful Extract gives several interesting points about Turkey’s efforts to resolve these questions, which may one day prove to be existential to the State.
Insightful Extract 06:
Headed East: Turkey’s Education System by Dr Svante E. Cornell [top]
Our final insightful extract is written by Dr Svante E. Cornell who is the Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI), and a Co-Founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy (ISDP) in Stockholm, Sweden.
In February 2012, then Prime Minister Erdoğan embarked on another wholesale reform of Turkey’s education system, and uttered the now famous statement that his government was aiming at “raising pious generations.” The government hastily rammed a law package through the parliament termed “4+4+4” without allowing any consultation or debate. While the law nominally extended compulsory schooling by four years, making education compulsory for a full 12 years, in actuality it reduced compulsory public schooling. It also allowed for students to enter vocational schools – including Islamic imam hatip schools – after fifth grade rather than from ninth grade.
The controversy over imam hatip schools is hardly new. Erdoğan’s reforms came exactly 15 years after the February 1997 military intervention, which targeted Turkey’s first Islamist-led government. In so doing, the military imposed comprehensive changes to Turkey’s education system, most prominently by increasing compulsory schooling from five to eight years. This abolished the booming sector of imam and preacher schools, whose original purpose had been to provide manpower for Turkey’s mosques and religious establishment. Prior to the 1997 coup, parents had been free to enrol their children in schools of their choice from sixth grade onward – including the imam hatip schools that often benefited from ample private funding, and thus had smaller class sizes and better infrastructure than many vocational or academic middle schools.
These schools are hardly Taliban-style madrasas: They provide a regular academic curriculum, but also an additional 13 hours per week of religious education. As a result of Islamist lobbying and fundraising at home and abroad, these schools had expanded exponentially over past decades. By 1997, they enrolled one in 10 middle and high school students. The imam hatip schools had become a parallel system of education, which increasingly provided the voter base and manpower for Turkey’s Islamist movement. The 1997 intervention abolished these schools at the middle school level, and made it harder for graduates of imam hatip high schools to gain entrance to universities, with the exception of theology programs. As intended, imam hatip enrollment declined dramatically, from 11 percent to 2 percent of students.
This is what Erdoğan’s 2012 reform sought to reverse. But it went further. As Orhan Kemal Cengiz has observed, the reforms turned “religious schools from a selective option to a central institution in the education system.” The reforms introduced entrance examinations for all high schools except the imam hatip schools; implying that all students who do not qualify for other schools would have no choice but to enrol in imam hatip schools.
By 2015, Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, whose Turkey Youth and Education Service Foundation (Türkiye Gençlik ve Eğitime Hizmet Vakfı, TÜRGEV) foundation was put in charge of the expansion of the imam hatip schools, announced that the number of students enrolled had reached one million. And no wonder: In August 2013, over 1,112,000 students took the placement test for high schools with an academic program; yet there were only 363,000 slots available. Those that did not make the cut had to choose between vocational schools, imam hatip schools, and a variety called “multi-program high schools,” whose availability was distinctively sketchy. 40,000 students were automatically enrolled in imam hatip schools reportedly against their will.
Erdoğan’s reforms extended beyond boosting imam hatip schools. The reforms also greatly expanded the religious content of regular high schools. The government extended the time students spend in a compulsory class on “Religious Culture and Moral Values,” which in spite of its name focuses entirely on Sunni Islam. In addition, elective courses such as “the life of Prophet Muhammad” and the “Qur’an” were introduced into the curriculum. In total, that meant that students could receive up to six hours of religious education per week. Since the number of total hours of school per week was shortened, the proportional increase in religious education was even more marked. In theory, religious classes are elective.
Reforms in 2010 made it possible to transform regular high schools into imam hatip schools; in 2012, this was made possible for middle schools as well. In March 2014, new legislation was adopted that provided the government with a mandate to overhaul the entire structure of the ministry of education, including terminating thousands of high-ranking officials, who could then be replaced by political appointees. The government claims that such processes only take place as a result of popular demand, but the record proves otherwise. In fact, government plans to turn secular schools into imam hatip schools have led to street protests in a number of places. The process clearly appears to be supply-driven rather than demand-driven. As will be seen below, enrolment numbers make this clear.
In 2017, the admission system for high schools changed again – to a model supposedly driven by the geographic location of the applicant. The system was nevertheless rapidly criticized for tweaks that arguably push students into the expanding imam hatip sector. Meanwhile, changes to the curriculum raised eyebrows for doing away with the teaching of evolutionary biology in high schools. Per the Minister of Education İsmet Yılmaz, Darwin’s theory is too complex for high schoolers, and should only be taught at the university level. By contrast, the new curriculum downgrades the attention given to the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and introduces the concept of jihad as a positive sense of “love for homeland.”
But the government’s steps are unequivocally in that direction; and it is not only the content of curricula but the broader context of education that matters.
By contrast, the Gülen and Süleymancı movements made education their main focus – the Süleymancı mainly in Qur’an courses, and the Gülen movement in secular schools. But they also spent considerable energy expanding the networks of thousands of student dormitories, which provided a captive environment for the indoctrination of young minds into the tenets of their particular movement.
it appears that the two main established communities that have moved to replace the in uence of the Gülenists in the education sector are the Süleymancı and the Ismailağa groups. Among them, the Süleymancı are known to operate over a thousand dormitories across the country.
While there is no question that the influence of these foundations is growing, the question remains what particular brand of Islamism will be disseminated in their activities. On one hand, conservative Turkish brotherhoods in the Nakşibendi Halidi tradition are likely to compete for influence in these organizations. On the other, Gulf funding for their activities raises the question to what extent Salafi-inspired thinking will find its way into the Turkish education system, as some already fear is happening to the Turkish religious bureaucracy in general.
A January 2018 well-reported Reuters investigation provides some statistics for the transformation of Turkey’s education system. Although imam hatip students still make up only 11 percent of the total, Reuters’ review of the government budget indicates that it plans to spend 6.5 billion liras (1.68 billion dollars) in 2018 alone on these religious schools – or 23 percent of the education budget; the government was planning to spend 6.200 liras per student in regular schools, but 12.500 liras per student in religious schools. As a result, regular schools are considerably more crammed than religious schools, both in number of total students per school, and in terms of class sizes. “The government was planning to spend 6,200 liras per student in regular schools, but 12,500 liras per student in religious schools.”
Of course, the government claims that they are only responding to public demand, arguing that whereas previously, the imam hatip schools were repressed, the government now only provides the type of schooling that society requests. But facts tell another story. First, the government is clearly planning for the expansion of the imam hatip schools. It filled only 31 percent of the contingent for these schools in 2017, while the regular high school contingent was filled at a rate of 98.3 percent. This indicates a plan to expand imam hatip schools in the future, something confirmed by a high school application system that is heavily slanted to guide students toward these schools. Parents, however, appear unfazed. Data from late 2017 suggests that while the number of imam hatip schools increased by 26 percent over the last two years, the number of students in these schools actually fell by almost 10 percent after having reached a high point in 2015.
And no wonder: these schools underperform woefully from an academic perspective. In Turkey’s highly competitive centralized university placement exam, 36 percent of high schoolers attending regular, secular high schools won a place in a four-year college program. That is less than the 54 percent of graduates of the special science high schools. But it is a world of difference from imam hatip schools, who ranked the last, with less than 18 percent of graduates being able to enter university.
Indeed, scores on the university entrance exam provide a clear picture. In the language and math section of the test, science high school graduates again take the lead with an average of 340 points. Graduates of private and public secular high schools rank lower, at 241 and 234 respectively. But again, graduates of imam hatip schools are far behind at 180 points.
The islamization of the Turkish education system has already begun to have effects. Whatever the government’s intentions, this effect has been to devalue traditional secular knowledge. This has been made evident by Turkey’s performance in international surveys such as OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. The drop has been clear across the board. PISA measures student scores in math, reading, and science. In 2012, Turkey’s scores were 448, 475 and 463, respectively, for a combined 44th place among 65 countries surveyed. By 2015, the scores had dropped to 420, 428, and 425, and Turkey fell to 52nd place among 73 countries surveyed. As an illustration, Kazakhstan, which ranked behind Turkey in 2012, has now bypassed Turkey as it invests in secular education and climbs up the rankings.
The change is not only quantitative but also very likely qualitative. The secular-religious divide in the education sector touches on the key question of epistemology: What are the sources of knowledge and learning? As the American example suggests, a secular education system can certainly be respectful of religious values and beliefs. However, it instils students with the notion that in the final analysis, knowledge stems from reason and experience rather than divine revelation. An education system based on religion does the opposite: To borrow the terminology of Erdoğan’s former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, it rejects the “peripherality of revelation” in the Western enlightenment philosophy, and instead emphasizes the primacy of divine revelation as the uncontested ultimate source of knowledge, whatever reason or experience might suggest.
Of course, this is the point of the process taking place in Turkey’s education system today. And that trajectory will leave Turkey weaker rather than stronger on the international stage. Most crucially, it will contribute to undoing what had distinguished Turkey from its Middle Eastern neighbours. As the Turkish republic loosens its embrace, however tenuous, of enlightenment values, it will likely become increasingly a Middle Eastern rather than a European country.
| Yağmuru seviyorum diyorsun,
yağmur yağınca şemsiyeni açıyorsun...
Güneşi seviyorum diyorsun,
güneş açınca gölgeye kaçıyorsun...
Rüzgarı seviyorum diyorsun,
rüzgar çıkınca pencereni kapatıyorsun...
İşte,bunun için korkuyorum;
Beni de sevdiğini söylüyorsun...
|You say that you love rain,
but you open your umbrella when it rains...
You say that you love the sun,
but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines...
You say that you love the wind,
But you close your windows when wind blows...
This is why I am afraid;
You say that you love me too...
How do you feel? What do you feel?
We have now completed our journey hopping and skipping through the history of education in Turkey. By hopping and skipping we obviously have missed much ground however where we have landed are important considerations worthy of reflection.
- The Ottoman mathematicians’ history and educational context - [ reference doc ]
- The Turkish War of Independence, birth of a Republic - [ reference doc]
- Suzan Kahramaner – Pioneering female mathematician in Turkish academia - [ reference doc ]
- From Turkey to Tottenham, Rapper Tayfun valuing mathematical competence - [ reference video ]
- Turkish maths teachers’ approaches: Traditional or Constructivist - [ reference doc ]
- Post-coup purge will affect Turkey's education sector for decades - [ reference doc ]
- Headed East: Turkey’s Education System - [ reference doc ]
What do you think about these insightful extracts? Do share your comments below in the comments section and answer the [ ePolls ]. Links are provided above to the reference documents and essays which we highly recommend you view, some are available here as downloads too (see "Bonus material related to articles" tab section). One thing is very clear, everyone (all the stakeholders) value the importance of controlling the education process. Many of the insights, concerns and underlying patterns easiy translate into our countries experiences let's explore the future and discuss them now.
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