Education in Europe and Turkey

20 Ocak 2013 at 15:00

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The Interview with Assoc. Prof. Ali Faruk Yaylacı on Education in Europe and Turkey

Interviewed by Advocate Gozde Ozer

Hope you enjoy the interview we made with our education expert who underlined some key points which he believes the Education Ministry must take into consideration during the reformation of the Turkish educational system.

The Interview with Dr. Ali Faruk Yayalacı on Education in Europe and Turkey

First of all, we would like to thank Assoc. Prof. Ali Faruk Yaylacı for giving this interview to the web-based news portal launched and operated by UKAD STK (International Women’s Dialogue Group), and for sparing time to respond our questions. Now let’s start with our first question. At the beginning of our interview, we want to ask you this: Who is Assoc. Prof. Ali Faruk Yaylacı as an educator, and could you give us an outline of your professional works and activities?

I thank you for giving me this opportunity. I’m an educator with some sixteen years of teaching experience -five years of this period were in Belgium-. I can also describe myself as an educationalist with graduate and doctorate degrees in educational management and supervision. My teaching experience in Belgium prompted me to focus more on education in the context of migration. I’m continuing my academic studies on the management of educational organizations, and organizational theories as well as education in intercultural environment and post-cultural identities. As part of these studies, we held two congresses in Belgium in 2008 and 2009 in a row, which brought together Turkish and foreign academics particularly from across Europe. At a time of ever-increasing migration movements around the globe, which force people of different cultural backgrounds to live together, I think the aforementioned topics will receive more academic and popular attention than ever.

As you mentioned, you served as an educator in Belgium for half a decade. When you draw a comparison between Turkey and Belgium in terms of education, what can you say us?

Living in a different country and cultural environment is a rich experience for everyone. During my teaching years in Belgium, I had the opportunity to examine the Belgian education system and educational organizations as well as the country’s approach to education. Despite the worldwide “similarizing” effect of globalization, education -as in other parts of any social structure- is shaped by culture. Naturally, cultural features and worldviews of different societies are reflected in their education systems. The first thing one should know about Belgium is that as a constitutional monarchy with a federative structure made up of three autonomous regions, it is a rather unique and small country of 10 million people. The historical experience of Fleming and Walloon regions has brought about the current structure of the Belgian society. Since the mid-1970s, there has been a federative state structure in Belgium where French-speaking Walloon people have long enjoyed a dominant position. While education language in Fleming region is Flemish, it is French in Walloon region. In Brussels-Capital region, both of these languages are in use. In other words, there is a bilingual education environment in this region. However, these two languages are taught together also at schools in each of the two abovementioned regions. The diversity seen in the context of education languages is also observed concerning school structures. For example, mainly there are three types of elementary school in Belgium: schools run by municipalities, schools run by the Catholic Church and private schools. In an integrated framework, all these schools comprise the Belgian education system. At the secondary school level, there are two types of educational institutions: vocational schools and Latin schools. When we make a comparison between Turkey and Belgium in terms of educational systems, one of the outstanding characteristics of Belgian education system -besides diversity in school types- is its classifier and eliminative nature. To be eligible to attend Latin schools, whose main goal is to prepare students for university education, is very difficult. Many students are directed to vocational schools through an effective counseling system during their elementary school years. However, this student guidance system could end up having a negative impact on students of migrant origin. Especially students of migrant origin who experience difficulties with learning the language of their host country are placed among the eliminated ones. In other words, they are mostly classified as non-eligible for vocational or university education. Another interesting point is that certain schools in Belgium are attended mostly by students of migrant-origin. To be more precise, families of migrant-origin prefer to send their children to schools run by municipalities. In some cases, all of the students of such schools are of migrant origin. Schools run by Catholic Church are favored by the native people. However, considering the quality of education offered, many migrant families too send their children to Catholic schools. At this point, touching on the migration phenomenon would be helpful for us to understand the impact of hosting a large migrant population on Belgium’s education system. Belgium is a country many people of migrant origin live in and this situation naturally affects the country’s education system. What I talked about just now is a result of this. During my teaching years in Belgium, I had the opportunity to make intensive firsthand observations about schools there, and also had some important educational experiences. Of course, like many of us, I compared what I experienced or saw in Belgium with Turkey, and many dramatically different aspects surfaced. I want to talk about school buildings in Belgium but before this, let me firstly talk about a general observation of mine which I believe is closely related to my observations about schools in the country. At the beginning of our interview, I described living in a different country as a rich experience for everyone. In line with this, let me clearly say this: When I started to live in Belgium, I really found a culture and society very different from what I expected. In a sense, this reveals the wrongness of our expectations about a certain country that we’ve never seen before. I think this is closely linked to the education and culture we receive and acquire in Turkey because the image of West given to us in Turkey is constantly identified with the concepts of “new” and “developed.” But the Belgium that I saw was different from this image. I saw a country with well-preserved historical fabric, and pursuing an aesthetic elegancy even in new constructions to protect its historical assets. Nearly all buildings in main cities of Belgium were well-protected historical buildings. This was a good example of a country protecting its own historical legacy properly. This observation was accompanied by the feeling of how insensitive we were to the proper protection of our own historical legacy. Tough there have been important efforts in recent years towards improving historical awareness among Turkish people, it is certain that this is a matter of long negligence for us. Let me turn again to my observation on school buildings in Belgium. Most of them were relatively old but well-protected buildings. Also, an architectural feature one can see across Belgium, that is, horizontal construction, was immediately greeting the eye in school buildings. Seeing Belgian school buildings constructed in line with an architectural style similar to that of our Ottoman-era examples of school buildings, namely a two- or maximum three-storey building with a large square- or rectangular-shaped courtyard or playground in the middle, was very interesting for me. Differently from our multi-storey school buildings creating an atmosphere of formality, a warm atmosphere unique to children was making itself felt in Belgian school buildings. It is seen that new schools in our country are constructed in a much more aesthetic fashion compared to the past. However, we can say that past years have seen a remarkable negligence in this respect. We must remember that schools must be constructed for children. The first thing that drew my attention concerning students and teachers in Belgium was the diversity and colorfulness of their clothes. At the same time, an understanding of “keeping a certain distance and maintaining a certain level of discipline” in relations between teachers and students, which seemed to be contrary to that diversity and colorfulness, equally caught my attention. This was because the way of communication between Belgian teachers and students was much more formal and distant than ours which is characterized by a warm and cordial relationship where teachers play the role of parents. When I raised this matter at a conference, a Belgian educator said that they love children very much and that they are sincere in dealings with them but added that they keep them at a certain distance and maintain a certain level of discipline in their relations to ensure children get a quality education. As I stressed at the outset, cultural differences shape behaviors. Non-individualist, sharing, warm and sincere characteristics of our culture are also reflected in teacher-student relations in our country. What is odd is probably that those characteristics of our culture aren’t reflected in our school buildings and student or teacher clothes. Just like school buildings, classrooms in Belgian schools too were distinctive with their extremely colorful atmosphere. It was apparent that schools had been designed for children and for them to play. Also, the traditional structure of classrooms was an important detail for me. Blackboards were still widely in use in those classrooms.

In recent years, Turkey has seen major changes and transformations in the area of education. Considering your observations in Europe, how do you asses these educational developments?

It is true that dramatic educational changes and transformations have been taking place in Turkey in recent years. One thing that stands out in these changes and transformations is the struggle to compete with the world. There have been such educational changes as the modernization of schools and education environments, and the introduction of smart boards and tablet computers into classrooms. What is more important for me is the reformation of educational curriculums. Though they have drawn many criticisms, I believe it is evident that the reformed curriculums are better than the old ones, a product of an education approach considerably lagging behind the times. Of course, there are still things to do in this area. Based on my observations at home after returning from Belgium, I can say there is need to ensure that high-level educational changes are also reflected at lower levels of our country’s education system. We talked about Belgian schools before. Schools in Belgium are entitled to receive financial support from the government in accordance with the rate of problematic and migrant-origin students they offer education. This practice could be a solution for our many elementary schools facing serious budget problems. More importantly, educationalists and decision makers must mull over this question: Education, What for? As I mentioned before, culture and world view of a society shapes its education system. As a country enjoying a deep-rooted and rich historical legacy, and located at a point of equilibrium between the East and the West, we must reflect our values in our education system. The best response to transformations taking place across the world is competing with developed countries by remaining true to ourselves, to our values and principles. Educational novelties, innovations, reforms or improvements in technical infrastructure would make even better sense if they are achieved based on this intellectual foundation.

There are many Turks living in Belgium and you served them as an educator. How do you see Turks living in Belgium in the context of education?

There are more than 160,000 Turkish migrants in Belgium. Throughout a migration process which started in the 1960s, a multifaceted Turkish community has taken shape in Belgium. Turkish migrants there have made remarkable achievements in various areas but some serious educational problems still remain. Despite the fact that the Turkish community in Belgium enjoys a relatively strong economic position together with political representatives at different levels of the Belgian political system, they still face important problems concerning their educational level or development. Also as a result of such factors as ethnocentrism and xenophobia, Turkish migrant students are negatively affected by the student guidance system applied in Belgium, and they are eliminated before reaching higher levels of the Belgian education system. The number of Turkish migrant students receiving university education is very low, and what makes matters worse is that no inclination towards or motivation for getting university education is observed among the Turkish migrant students. The same indifference is also the case for Turkish language lessons. Turkish migrant families aren’t aware of the necessity of Turkish language lessons for their children’s education, and they act in line with recommendations given by Belgian educators who claim that learning Turkish negatively affects Turkish migrant students acquiring Flemish, and their success in school. Currently in Belgium, there are up to 60 Turkish teachers who give Turkish migrant students Turkish language and Turkish culture lessons, with nearly 4, 500 students attending these lessons. However, the actual number of Turkish migrant students who must be present to take these lessons is much more than this figure.

Did you engage in joint activities with educators from Turkey as part of your educational projects in Belgium, and what are your future plans in this respect?

As I mentioned, we held International Congress of European Turks in 2008 and 2009 in a row. During these events, academics from Turkey and Europe shared their opinions about education and integration. We have plans to continue this event in the years to come. I also think that new researches should be made to prepare bilingual educational materials for Turkish language and Turkish culture lessons with a view to meeting educational needs of Turkish migrants in Europe. New research efforts are also needed to find out education-related problems of Turkish migrant people there. We have various ideas for educational projects in this context. More importantly, I would like to underline the lack of adequate academic research on Turkish migrants and education in Europe.

How do you see Turkey’s efforts to help improve the educational situation of Turkish migrants in Europe? What could be problems and solution offers in this sense?

Turkey has been regularly sending Turkish language and Turkish culture teachers to European countries that host Turkish migrants. This is an important advantage not enjoyed by many other migrant communities in those countries. A Moroccan migrant I met in Belgium reacted to this situation saying, “Turks are very lucky.” Of course, this practice is very important to protect bonds between Turkish migrant community in Europe and Turkey. During my teaching years in Belgium, I have repeatedly warned Turkish migrant parents to send their children to Turkish language lessons. This was because when they grow up, these children would remember that they received Turkish language and Turkish culture lessons from teachers coming from Turkey, their homeland, and their families offered this opportunity to them. And even this remembering would be a great thing in their development. However, the lessons in questions should be made much more fruitful. As you may know, in parallel with xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist sentiments spreading through Europe, more and more governments across the continent pursue migration policies intended to cut off ties between migrant people and their native country, thus paving the way for assimilating them into their host societies. The Netherlands now doesn’t accept Turkish teachers sent by Turkey to meet educational needs of Turkish migrant children there, and this tendency of refusing Turkish teachers is spreading across Europe. At this point, it is necessary to ensure the continuation of Turkish language and Turkish culture lessons given by Turkish teachers through official contacts between Turkey and relevant European countries. It is also vital to take a number of measures concerning the selection of Turkish teachers who will be sent to Europe. Under the current regulations regarding this selection process, teachers with a certain level of proficiency in a necessary foreign language, and enjoying a good deal of teaching experience are given a written examination. Those who pass this exam and a subsequent interview become eligible for a five-year teaching service in Europe. However, it is now clear that this selection system is no longer an effective one. First of all, the foreign language knowledge held by most of the selected teachers lacks sufficient practice. In other words, they have no adequate proficiency in using their foreign language in a native-speaking environment. Secondly, the selected teachers –no matter how experienced they are- actually –as the phrase goes- start doing a job they’re completely unacquainted with. Migration process and educating migrant people comprise a per se different and unique area. To speak without going into details, teachers selected for teaching service in Europe must be competent in such topics as multicultural and intercultural society, transnational and transcultural identities, migration theories, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, social and individual dimensions of migration, the history of Europe in general, and particularly the history, social structure and culture of the country to which they are sent, and mother-tongue learning and bilingual education. They must have an excellent command of the language of the country they are appointed to. They must be chosen among the teachers who have previously visited and made educational studies in European countries hosting Turkish migrants, thus becoming experienced in teaching migrant students. To this end, graduate programs on teaching in foreign countries must be launched as part of education faculties across Turkey, and these programs must be carried out in cooperation and coordination with European countries home to Turkish migrant people. The teachers, who meet certain criteria, and are selected through an examination, must be sent to Europe after completing this graduate program. Considering the importance of Turkish migrant community in Europe, and the cruciality of educational services towards Turkish migrant people there, the necessity of such a strategic approach to the mentioned selection process would be understood better. Both the program of pre-service training for the teachers sent to Europe, and the content of schoolbooks for Turkish migrant students there must be prepared in cooperation with European educators. Another matter of great importance is about how our country can benefit from the experiences of the teachers who returned to Turkey after completing their teaching service in Europe. On their return to Turkey, those teachers bring with them very important experiences acquired in teaching Turkish migrant students in European countries, and then they continue teaching in Turkey. Of course, their return is useful in terms of reflecting their experiences in Europe to the educational processes and activities in our country. Yet, we must more effectively benefit from the experiences of these teachers as part of educational activities directed towards Turkish migrants abroad. Their opinions and evaluations must be taken into consideration in the preparation of educational materials such as schoolbooks for Turkish migrant students in Europe, as well as during educational policy setting efforts in this context.

Lastly, as a person with long years of service in education, what do you recommend to your colleagues who aspire to become “good educators”?

There are some well-known and much-talked-about definitions and essential traits for particularly teaching and teachers or more generally for educating and educators, like patience, love and self-sacrifice or self-devotion. Of course, all of those definitions or traits are true. Maybe they are even truer for teaching and educating than any other profession. However, living and working conditions are not always conducive or supportive. I think that in an ever-transforming and -complex world where living is hard, the primary quality essential for teachers or educators must be an internal acceptance of the fact that they have to resist hardships. For me, teaching and learning while teaching are the most amusing things in the world. We must get the utmost enjoyment out of this, and another much more important thing is nonstop personal development. In any society, educators must be the people thinking the most, reading the most and discussing the most, plus seeing things in an open-minded way.

Dear Assoc. Prof. Yaylacı, again we would like to thank you for sharing your experiences with us, and sparing time for this interview amid your busy schedule. We believe that your educational works will light the way for future generations, and will also help build bridges of friendship between the Belgian and Turkish cultures. We wish you continued success in your future endeavors.

I thank you so much for your beautiful wishes. I hope we all do the best we can.

Translated by C.F.Y.  for IWFA

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