Two thirds of Turkish students don’t understand what they read - ministry report

According to the ABİDE project by the Turkish Ministry of National Education, 66 pct of students in Turkey have low reading comprehension skills, reported Deutsche Welle Turkish.

The ABİDE project, devised by Turkey’s Ministry of National Education as an alternative to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), ran a country-wide study in 1,230 schools with 116,000 students from the 4th and 8th grades, showed that students lack basic skills, are bad at arithmetics and have very low reading comprehension. The low achievement levels start at primary school, and get worse as the students progress.

According to the report, 1.6 pct of students are at below-basic levels in Turkish, while the figures are 16.4 pct for mathematics, 9.4 pct for natural sciences and 4.4 pct for social sciences. 

66.1 pct of students scored average and below in the reading comprehension section, while only 33.9 scored above average.

The findings are coherent with PISA ratings. According to the 2017 PISA report, Turkey ranked 49th in mathematics among 72 countries and territories, 52nd in natural sciences and 50th in reading.

NYU professor and childhood development expert Selçuk Şirin said the biggest problem children in Turkey have is that they don’t understand what they read in their native language. Şirin said Turkey lags well behind Europe in pre-school education, and that literacy is an issue in the country: “Out of all the children born in Turkey annually, only 200,000 have any books in their homes. The remaining one million children are introduced to books when they start elementary school.”

Reading comprehension is the foundation to all learning, according to Şirin, and if children can’t develop this skill the country cannot produce technology, nor can it succeed “in any area at all”.

The ABİDE report also showed that public schools have fallen behind compared to private institutions. Private schools are better at teaching academic skills than public schools, which are in turn better than the religious imam-hatip schools that have become more prevalent in recent years throughout the country. The regional boarding schools, YİBO for short, remain at the bottom of the list.

Journalist and education editor Pervin Kaplan said private school students score “60 to 70 pct better in high school entrance exams”, while European averages are at around 10 pct. 

Kaplan pointed to the religious schools and said the demand for these schools should be studied: “Families often want to send their children to high schools focusing on natural and social sciences. Of course the religious high schools have a place, but parents should not be forced to send their children to schools they don’t want.”

In recent years, many regular middle and high schools and some science-focused specialty schools were turned into religious schools, and some areas were left with little to no alternatives, despite small but widespread protests by parents throughout Turkey.

Education Reform Initiative (ERG) Chairperson Dr. Üstün Ergüder said Turkey’s educational system is fundamentally flawed and schools are not entirely autonomous: “What we end up with is an entirely hierarchical pyramid system. We try to produce quality with top-down rules, but we fail. When schools and teachers have autonomy, like in the Finnish model, education reaches much higher levels.”

Ergüder said all political actors in Turkey must put aside their ideologies and come to an agreement on an educational model, “as now every new government designs an educational system to create the best person for their ideology”. To wit, Selçuk Şirin had listed a total of 14 changes in the educational system in 2017.