Changes made to the education system, lowering the age at which children start school to 5.5, will cause tremendous difficulty when schools open in September of this year, with schools from all across Turkey expecting unmanageably large class sizes based on their confirmed enrollments so far.

The number of first-graders starting school this year is 40 percent more than in a usual year due to the recent changes. Schools in the Esenyurt and Kağıthane districts of İstanbul report class sizes of as many as 100 students based on the number of students that have enrolled so far. Parents and teacher unions say the mere size of the classrooms will mean chaos, but there are also other problems such as the failure of the ministry to renovate school facilities — such as bathrooms or classroom furniture — to accommodate the younger newcomers.

The law, passed in Parliament in March and approved by President Abdullah Gül within weeks, increased the current duration of compulsory education from an uninterrupted eight years to 12 years and divided it into three four-year stages — primary school, middle school and high school — and is popularly known as the “4+4+4” education law.

With this law, children who reach 66 months of age will have to register with a primary school unless parents submit a medical certificate exempting the child from education at that age. This is expected to cause a score of problems, as the number of children starting school this year may be double the figure of a normal year. A total of 373,000 students are expected to enroll in primary schools this year in İstanbul alone.

The principal of an İstanbul school, who asked not to be named as public officials are not authorized to speak to the press, said that in a normal school year they have enrolments of 140 first graders whereas so far they have over 200 confirmed students. He said he didn’t know how to handle such a high number of students, noting that he feared that the number will rise before the start of the 2012-2013 school year, which is scheduled to start on Sept. 17. The first-graders will start school one week before the other

students to be able to adapt to school more easily. The same principal also highlighted that the average class size, which is already high in schools across Turkey, is expected to increase due to the changes.


Difficult for little ones

Enrolling in primary school at the age of 5.5 as per the new law has met with concerns from educators and child psychologists who say the new school entry age will cause problems for both young students and teachers.

With the rise in the number of enrolled students, who will now be younger, the question is whether the teachers and students are prepared for the problems that the new system is expected to cause.

Democratic Educators’ Union (DES) Chairman Gürkan Avcı who spoke to Today’s Zaman listed some of the problems that primary school teachers will face in the coming school year. Stating that primary school teachers receive pedagogical education at university, Avcı noted that teachers should undergo extensive in-service training courses provided by the Education Ministry in order to be more prepared for the new system. “Primary school teachers should be well informed about the new system if a smooth transition period is desired,” Avcı further noted.

Education Personnel Labor Union (Eğitim Bir-Sen) Secretary-General Ahmet Özer agreed, telling Today’s Zaman said that primary school teachers absolutely should be provided in-service training before school starts. Stating that existing classrooms are not physically suitable for young learners, Özer noted that the conditions of classrooms and buildings should be adjusted according to the needs of these young learners.

A professor at Marmara University Education Faculty, Dr. Ayla Oktay, who spoke to the Habertürk daily, said class sizes are already very large in Turkey, averaging between 50 and 60 students. With these numbers going up, a teacher will have to deal with such a large number of students that the situation will be unmanageable for primary school teachers. Oktay also suggested that another teacher be appointed for overcrowded classrooms to help the first teacher.

Classes are expected to be offered as morning and afternoon classes for primary school education due to the lack of classrooms to cover the large number of newly enrolled students. The morning classes are expected to start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:00 p.m., while the afternoon classes are expected to start at 2:30 p.m. and end at 7:30 p.m. Avcı commented that young students who attend morning classes will have to be at school for 7:30 a.m., which means they will have to wake up at least half-an-hour earlier — if not more — in order to get ready and have breakfast, which is likely to negatively affect students’ success in school.

Özer, who also commented on time school will start, said that this system (morning and afternoon classes) should be avoided since it is not pedagogically suitable.

Different levels can cause trouble

The first year of the new system will see a wide range of difference in the ages of first-graders in the same classes. This means that students with different levels of development will have to take classes together, which has caused concern among child psychologists.

A psychologist from the private İçe Bakış Family Counseling Center, Belkıs Ertürk, who spoke to Today’s Zaman, stated that it is not recommended in terms of the cognitive, affective and psychomotor development of learners.

“Children who are 5.5 years old tend to have less developed abstract thinking skills compared to 6 or 7 year olds. Therefore, the methods used for teaching 5.5 year olds should be different from the methods used for teaching 6.5 or 7 year olds. Furthermore, 5.5-year-old students will learn much slower than older students, which will damage their sense of self-confidence,” Ertürk noted.

Offering some advice for primary schools teachers and parents of younger students, Ertürk said because younger children will have lower attention spans, teachers should consider this while teaching classes. “Teachers should be cautious about these young learners; they should choose more involving class activities to increase their attention span. School administrations, parents and teachers should work together to help young learners. If these children are not supported, they can develop negative perceptions of school and can be unwilling to go to school,” Ertürk noted.

Child development specialist Gözde Erdoğan told Today’s Zaman that troubles that young learners face during the first year can pave the way for later trauma. Stating that there will be physical differences between students in a class, Erdoğan further stated that older students can mock younger ones when young learners fail to accomplish a classroom task during a lesson. “This will really hurt their self esteem,” Erdoğan highlighted.

Stating that a good-quality education should not be expected in such classes where the age difference between students is too large, Erdoğan further commented that school will be no more than an institution to keep children off the streets.

Source Zaman.

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