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Talking Turkey

| June 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Lebogang Montjane

In February this year, I had occasion to visit Istanbul for a return visit.

The first time I had the opportunity to be in that great, historic, intercontinental city, I knew that I would seize the first chance to return. Even though the initial intention of this visit was personal, I thought that it would be opportune to learn more about independent education in Turkey. To this effect, I secured a meeting with the Turkish Private Schools Association (TPSA). In an office with panoramic views of Istanbul, down the road from Tahrir Square (Liberation Square), I was warmly received by the co-chairs of the TPSA, Yusuf Tavukçuolu and Cem Gülan, as well as its vice chairman, Nurullah Dal.

TPSA the largest in Turkey

Founded in 1951, TPSA has many characteristics similar to ISASA. It is the largest independent schools association in Turkey, with 1 000 member schools that educate children from pre-primary to Grade 12. Beyond its principal aim of advocating and protecting the interests of the private school sector, TPSA administers conferences for its membership. These conferences range from educational phase-specific gatherings, such as primary or high school conferences, to subject conferences and leadership symposia. Of the 81 Turkish provinces, TPSA has membership in 41 of them, with a bulk cluster of members being concentrated in Istanbul, the world’s sixth-largest city by population. In Turkey, independent schools educate 4% of pupils in 7% of the country’s schools. TPSA estimates that in Istanbul, about one-third of educational institutions are independent schools.

Financial aid to families

Within Turkey, the right of the independent educational sector to exist is closely regulated by government. Unlike ISASA, TPSA had to be granted permission from the minister of education in order to be constituted. In terms of financial assistance to the independent schooling sector, government does provide need-based subsidies to families to send their children to private schools, whilst the South African model is to aim assistant funding directly to schools.

The Feyziye Schools Foundation

In addition to sharing our experiences as associations, TPSA organised for me to visit the Ayazavga campus of one of its member schools, Işik Schools. The first Işik school, Feyziye Mektepleri Vakfi Işik, was founded in 1885. Today, the schools division is administrated by the Feyziye Schools Foundation, which oversees five campuses in Istanbul. Like the AdvTech group in South Africa, Feyziye has a tertiary division with two Işik University campuses in Istanbul. The Işik Ayazavga campus buttresses one of the Işik University locations, similar to the Sandton Crawford School/Varsity College campus in Johannesburg, South Africa. This arrangement permits the school to share some resources with the university. The worldwide expansionary trend of independent education is reflected in the Işik Schools. Of its five campuses, two were opened in 2013.

Işik schools innovative

As with many South African independent school families, the motivation for large numbers of Turkish parents to enrol their children in private schools are the alternative curricula and perspectives offered by such schools. Turkish public schools are required to use Turkish as the sole language of instruction, meaning that parents who want to prepare their children for a more global world have to turn to independent schools. The Işik schools best illustrate the outward-looking viewpoint private schools provide to their charges. They are distinctive in Turkey for their innovative curriculum and philosophy. They were the first Turkish schools to be co-educational, to introduce kindergarten as the first year of schooling, to teach modern languages at the preparatory school level and the first to replace Arabic and Persian subjects with philosophy, sociology and logic.

A comparable campus

During my visit, I had the pleasure of delivering a talk on South Africa to a select history class that was following the Diploma Programme of the International Baccalaureate®1 (most of the students at the Işik Schools follow an adapted Turkish curriculum). As with some students in ISASA member schools, many of the students in the history class with whom I spoke, aspired to attend the world’s leading universities. The look and feel of the Işik Ayazavga campus was comparable with any other leading independent school in a large metropolis.

ISASA and TPSA: a 21st century partnership

My visit with TPSA and Işik Ayazavga confirmed that the concerns and preoccupations of independent schools and their associations share more commonalities than differences. Independent schools associations have two main functions – advocacy and providing services to their members – whilst excellent independent schools are committed to adopting new knowledge to improve the quality of education they provide. I am glad to have made my acquaintances with TPSA and am grateful for their warm hospitality. I encourage visitors to the ISASA offices to come and view the beautiful isnik-inspired2 ceramic plate; a gift from TPSA to ISASA. Now that we know of each other’s existence, TPSA and ISASA have agreed to explore ways to collaborate in the future.

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Category: Winter 2015

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