Is the New Education Minister Up to Task?

Under Turkey’s new presidential system of government, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is able to appoint bureaucrats and experts to the cabinet in place of members of parliament and has chosen a long-time critic of government policy as education minister who has pledged to equip pupils for working life well into the 21st century.

Professor Ziya Selçuk is the founder and director of several private schools where he has attempted to put into practice his ideas, published in many books, that every student differs from another and that what is therefore needed is individual, not mass education.

"We are trying to provide education in 19th-century buildings with 20th-century teachers to 21st-century students," Selçuk has said.

"Today some skills are not given much heed such as leadership, entrepreneurship, aesthetics, and sentimentality,” he said. “Those who begin primary school today will start to work in 2040. But robots will make 40 percent of today's work. We have to educate children for jobs that robots cannot do."

Part of the problem, according to Selçuk, is that there has been a global change in what it means to be a competent person in today’s workforce. Competencies in schools should therefore be emphasised instead of diplomas or grade-point averages,.

Teachers and experts in education have given a cautious welcome to the appointment of Selçuk. An occasional critic of government policy is an oddity in a cabinet made of Erdoğan loyalists in which the president’s son-in-law controls the nation’s finances.

Selçuk appeared to praise the Gezi protests of 2013, which morphed from an attempt to block the destruction of an Istanbul park into the biggest demonstrations against the government since Erdoğan came to power in 2003.

"If the Gezi protesters organise a real party platform, then it could be a source of inspiration for bureaucrats, NGOs, and parties," he wrote on Twitter.

Selçuk is giving little away when it comes to his view on Turkey’s so-called 4+4+4 education system that was introduced in 2012. It breaks up mandatory schooling into three phases of four years and allows for religious education at an earlier age.

“I couldn't comment on the 4+4+4 issue because I (only) know how to count to three,” he said.