University entrance exams expose parlous state of education in Turkey

The results of this year’s university entrance examinations in Turkey announced last week revealed the parlous state of the education system.

More than 2.3 million students attended the 2019 exam’s basic proficiency test, which included 40 questions on Turkish, 20 questions on social sciences, 40 questions on basic mathematics, and 20 questions on science. A minimum 150 points in the test is required to enter two-year programmes of higher education institutions.

Some 1.8 million students also took the university entrance exam. The exam was made up of a total of 160 questions in four different tests: Turkish literature and social sciences, mathematics, social sciences, and sciences. In order to apply for a four-year degree, candidates need to pass the basic test and score at least 180 points in the university entrance exam. 

In addition, 113,956 people entered foreign language tests in Arabic, German, English, French and Russian.

The results show that 74 percent passed the basic proficiency test. Some 39 percent passed the numeracy part of the university entrance exam, which is necessary to apply to enter engineering and medicine faculties. In the university entrance exam’s arts and humanities section, 75 percent scored the minimum 180 points, while some 57 percent managed to get the minimum grade for courses such as political science, management, and economics. In the foreign language test, 79 percent scored high enough to apply to study a foreign language degree. 

The results seem optimistic at first sight, but one should also look at the minimum number of correct answers needed to pass. For example, students have to answer correctly 16 questions out of 120 in the basic proficiency test to get the required 150 points to apply for a two-year higher education programme. 

Let us have a look at the details.

In the Turkish section of the basic test, the average number of correct answers was 15 out of 40. In the social science test, the average was seven out of 20. In mathematics, it was six out of 40. In science, it was two out of 20. 

The results show that many Turkish students do not know Turkish, are mostly ignorant of the social sciences, and totally fail at mathematics and science.

The government brags about providing textbooks for free, decreasing the number of students per classroom and building new schools, but its performance in ensuring quality education is terrible. 

Let us not forget that most of the candidates who took the exam are new graduates of secondary schools, meaning they were babies when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. The AKP is therefore totally responsible for this failure. 

The results make you wonder what would have changed at all if we had not sent these children to school and had educated them at home instead. At least in that way we could have avoided the nationalist-conservative indoctrination of the school system and children would not need to wake up early and spend hours in traffic.

Let us also look at the university entrance exam results. In Turkish literature the average was five in out of 24 questions. In basic history it was two out of 10, in advanced history it was two out of 11. There were 12 philosophy questions and the average number of correct answers was three. 

The results of religion questions is also telling a lot about the AKP’s success in education: An average of one out of six.

In maths the average was five out of 40, in physics it is one -yes one!- out of 14, in chemistry it was again one out of 13. In biology, the average is a bit better; 1.3 out of 13.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of public debate over the acquisition of Russian missiles, the sacking of the head of the central bank and the third anniversary of the failed military coup, but very little discussion of the terrible exam results. 

The government tells us Turkey has entered a new era and will soon become one of the top 10 economies of the world, through the development of high-technology. But this rhetoric has nothing to do with reality. 

The Turkish Statistical Institute’s data shows 16 percent unemployment in non-agriculture sectors. The economy is contracting. The budget deficit reached 78.6 billion lira ($13.77 billion) in the first six months of 2019, increasing by 70 percent over the same period last year and already reaching the target set for the year’s end. Add to this the failure of the education system. 

Some 20 million students go to school every day, millions of books are printed, a huge amount of money is spent on school buildings and teachers, but there is no real educational outcome. 

The government says it has invested a lot in education over the last decade, that education spending is now higher than defence spending, that a revolution has been made in the curriculum. All those may be true quantitatively, but qualitatively the picture is very different. And both the president and education minister are silent.