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Turkish Education Association Conference

Traveling to Turkey and presenting at this conference was one of the highlights of my career and life.  Below is a brief essay expressing my thoughts about education and lessons we can learn from Turkey.  The founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, once said that "teachers are the one and only people who save nations".  He was right; and the United States in particular should take some lessons from the commitment of the Turkish people to education.

Also, be sure to visit this link to see more photos and videos from Turkey, from the five daily calls to prayer, to shopping in Beypazari (an ancient little town on the old silk and spice trade route), to the schools we visited and the conference.

Teachers Are the One and Only People Who Save Nations –

a lesson from Turkey

International Education Forum:  Innovation in Education


Two brief snippets from my presentation.  Click here to view my full presentation.   Anne Shaw is interviewed by Turkish reporter.


Educators in the United States could learn some things from Turkish educators.  When we were in Turkey recently I had the opportunity to visit four schools, public and private, K-12. 

I had been invited by the Turkish Education Association, known in Turkish as Türk Eğitim Derneği, or TED to speak at the Innovation and Education Forum.  I was honored to receive the personal invitation to present from Dr. Emin Karip, the Deputy Chair of Turkey’s National Board of Education.  The Turkish Education Association (TED) and Sebit Education and Information Technology Inc. in cooperation with Ankara TED College produced the 2nd annual International Education Forum II based on the theme of “Innovation in Education.” The event was opened with remarks by Presidential Secretary General Mustafa Isen.

Dr. Emin Karip, Deputy Chair, Turkish National Board of Education

I was especially excited about meeting and lunching with Sugata Mitra, famous for his “Hole in the Wall” project which began in India and was the inspiration for the award-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire.  I greatly looked forward to his presentation at the conference, which begins with some introductions in Turkish by Burcu Esmersoy, General Moderator and Dr. Umran İnan, President of Koç University.


We also had an opportunity to meet and talk over lunch with Dr. Şenştürk Uzun, Deputy Governor of Ankara.  My visit with him was cut short by being called to an interview with a reporter.  Part of her experience, which was very impressive, included working for Al Jazeera.  We also greatly enjoyed meeting Dr. Umran İnan, President of Koç University, and his wife.



The conference was sponsored by Sebit, a multinational e-education solution provider focusing on the empowerment of learners and educators K-12 through the effective use of technology.  Based in Ankara, Turkey, this company entered the American market in 2007 with its product Adaptive Curriculum


Ali Gürer, İlker Helvacı, Mustafa Ali Türker, Ahmet Eti and Ceren Akçamete

  Here is one of the very talented, interdisciplinary teams at Sebit creating state-of-the-art Learning Objects.

Sebit CEO Ahmet Eti and his project team hosted a meeting with two of the conference presenters, Thomas Frey and his wife, Deb as well as my husband, Jerry Self and me.  After some discussion and enjoyment of the host’s Turkish coffee and pastries, Mr. Eti then took us on an extensive tour of Sebit where we were able to observe their beautiful facilities and speak with their extremely talented, interdisciplinary team of designers who create the Object Lessons for Adaptive Curriculum.  We were very impressed with the facility, the people working there, and the very comfortable, attractive and positive atmosphere. 

The Adaptive Curriculum product is excellent as it fits perfectly into not only personalized learning (aka Differentiated Instruction), it completely integrates into and supports 21st century, project-based learning, and it is a very high quality, online, interactive product which students will enjoy using.  Additionally, these math and science lessons have been aligned to the state standards in the USA.


Turkish Hospitality

TED and Sebit kindly offered to extend our visit beyond the conference in order to allow us to have some time to see the sights.  I inquired as to whether it would be possible to visit some of their schools; I wanted to meet the teachers and the students, and to see them in action.  They arranged for us to be driven to four schools along with representatives from TED who served as guides, historians, and when needed, translators.  Many thanks to Gözde Oztürk and Hande Haciömeroğlu, who enthusiastically took us to Beypazari (a famous, ancient town along the old silk and spice trade route), shopping, to museums, to lunches and dinners, to schools, to the Ankara Castle and to the TED conference.  We were astounded at the levels of hospitality in Turkey; we felt as though we were literally being treated like royalty. 

Anne and one of our guides, Hande, who took us to Beypazari.  Photo by Deb Frey. Gözde spent many days taking us to schools, the conference, and the Ankara Castle.  Photo by Deb Frey.

 Additionally, we received a number of beautiful gifts from the Turkish Education Association.  See more on the PPT for Maya Koleji below (click on the chess set).

Painted plate presented as gift from student at Suleyman Elementary. Beautiful talisman gifted to us by the Turkish Education Association. On left is a beautiful plate given to us by TED.  To the right is a gorgeous coffee set purchased in a little shop in Beypazari. Plate purchased in Beypazari.  Hande recommend this one because it incorporated art from the ancient Ottoman Empire.


The Schools

Left to right:  Riza Öktem, Levent Okut and Gözde Oztürk.  Photo by Deb Frey.

We visited, and were hosted by the principals from four schools.  The first school we visited was Maya Koleji, for grades K-8.  The Educational Coordinator, Levent Okut, greeted us with Turkish coffee and tea.  We then proceeded to tour one of the most spectacular campuses I have ever seen.  The artwork of the students and teachers was everywhere.  The library and cafeteria were stunning.  They had a beautiful, state of the art, auditorium.  In addition to art, there was a room with 8 pianos.  There was a great deal of evidence that project-based learning was alive and well.  We saw evidence of projects and research on topics ranging from the atom bomb to chocolate and to environmental issues.  At the end of our tour we returned to the “lounge” to discover that a wonderful luncheon had been planned, and we enjoyed it very much.  The Principal, Sema Bayram and assistant principals, Fatma Kusat and Anil Erac, were equally hospitable.

Mr. Okut then accompanied us to Suleyman Elementary School, a public school, where we met the principal, Riza Öktem, and were once again greeted with enthusiasm and hospitality, beginning with Turkish coffee and tea.  We then toured the campus, visiting a number of classrooms.  Again, music and art were very much a part of the curriculum.  Mr. Öktem also showed us the garden the students were growing!



        Mr. Öktem shows us the student garden;                                            

Turkish coffee, Chi (hot tea) and sparkling water served to us at Suleyman Elementary School


The next two schools we visited were the TED Ankara Koleji (which is a high school) and the TED Ankara Kindergarten.  (A PPT of photos from the high school will be added soon).  Be sure to click on the chess set to see more images of this spectacular school, Maya Koleji, including some art pieces we received from the students.



Visiting TED Ankara Kindergarten -  I especially love how the piano teacher works with the students.  Notice the art everywhere!   This is just one of many breathtaking things we saw at Maya Elementary.  Please click this photo to view a PPT containing pictures that will inspire you!


Challenges in Turkish Schools

Not all schools in Turkey have the advantages of the schools we toured.  However, the point is that the Republic of Turkey is firmly determined to raise the quality of education for its children – significantly. 

One of the most passionate presentations at the TED conference was by Mete Kizilkaya, Principal at Polis Amca Primary School in Ankara.  The teachers are all escorted to and from school in police cars, so the school has come to be known as the Uncle Police School.  Many of the students do not attend school very much; they are busy making money to help their family.  He showcased, and had a video of a boy about 8 or 10 years old, speaking to him about his life.  He rises early every morning, goes out and purchases bagels.  Then he sells them on the street; he shows up at school around 12:30 in the afternoon.  But he has to leave again to take care of his family.  This principal outlined many challenges faced by his school and the students, and simply asked for help. 

As Selçuk Pehlivanoğlu stated in a speech in 2010, two of the country’s biggest problems are poverty and ignorance.  He cites problems such as child labor, child abuse, purse-snatching, and gangs in some areas.  The solution is education. 

Turkish culture and society are a fascinating mixture of the old world and the 21st century:

Old man and cart we saw on trip to Beypazari.  Photo by Jerry Self. Window display at a bionic limb store near our hotel.  Photo by Jerry Self. State-of-the-art conference facilities at TED Ankara Koleji.  Photo by Jerry Self.

It was not that long ago that Turkey changed compulsory education from completion of the fifth grade to completion of the 8th grade.  In many rural areas the girls do not attend school.  There are so many more children than there are classrooms that, in some places, children attend school either in the morning or in the afternoon.  The goal now is to provide a lifelong education for every citizen, including high school and university options for all children.  After all, as Atatürk said, teachers are the one and only people who save nations.


Excellence and Solidarity

Audience.  Photo by Thomas Frey


It was amazing and inspiring to see the determination and solidarity of the Turkish people in terms of education.  From the President of Turkey to the Ministry of Education, the Turkish Educational Association, the US Embassy to Turkey, teachers and principals throughout the country, prestigious universities and private sector industries – all stand united and determined to create excellence in education. 

Turkey is now focusing on not only providing classrooms for all children, they are working hard to transition from a traditional, teacher-centered classroom and a rote memorization curriculum, to a student-centered classroom with a 21st century curriculum.  As Mustafa Isen, the Presidential General Secretary stated, “we must change teacher education.  We must stop having teachers as owners of all knowledge and doing whatever we want to students.”  Accordingly, Selçuk Pehlivanoğlu, the President of the Turkish Education Association, stated that “we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect something different.”  He emphasized the need for true innovation and contributions to Turkish culture.  Plans are that every student in the country will have Internet access within the next two years, according to Ahmet Eti, CEO of Sebit.  Finally, Kayhan Karli, the Director General of the Teachers Academy Foundation, is leading a countrywide program of professional staff development for all teachers in the country!


Dr. Şenştürk Uzun,               Deputy Governor of Ankara Dr. Umran İnan,                                    President of Koç University Mustafa Isen                                    Presidential Secretary General             Ahmet Eti                                    CEO, Sebit, Inc.


As we pondered the absolute determination and solidarity of these diverse groups I was struck by an analogy – the launching of a space shuttle.  Ignition occurs prior to liftoff;   Turkey is in the ignition stage.  They have the power, the fuel, they are aiming high, and I predict a successful liftoff and flight.

In contrast, the United States has been slashing funding for education at the federal, state and local levels.  Many schools are being closed, and thousands of teachers are being laid off.  Those that managed to remain employed (at least in Texas) are also suffering from a reduction in salary!  Professional staff development has been reduced to a bare minimum. 


The Turkish people understand that it is going to take work, funding, commitment and a continuing focus and solidarity to realize their vision of a civil society, a 21st century society, a model and leader among nations.  They understand that education is not a luxury for a few, but a necessity for all, and, as in all countries, education is a matter of national security.

Other notable presenters at the conference were:


Dr. Teemu Leinonen, a member of New Media Design Group at Aalto University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland.  Teemu was the keynote speaker for our portion of the conference, "Future Schools and Future Classrooms". 

See his presentation here.

Thomas Frey, Founder and Director of the DaVinci Institute delivered the opening keynote.

See his new book Communicating With the Future.


Dr. Petek Aşkarm is Head of the Department of Sociology at Izmir University of Economics was the moderator for our session (and others) at the conference.   


The meaning of “Education”

There are different meanings for “education” in Turkey and in the United States.  I have been an educator for over 30 years.  I have taught at the elementary and the university levels.  I have worked with thousands of teachers, principals and superintendents in the United States.  And I have visited many schools and classrooms.  Children spend a large percentage of their waking time in school, so essentially, school is their life (in addition to their family, of course).  Not only do we need to ensure that they are learning, we need to ensure that they are developing as well-rounded, thinking, happy people who can succeed in the world of the 21st century as productive citizens.

There was a time when at least the elementary students in the United States had one or two recesses a day – time to go outside and play and just be kids.  Unfortunately, with the inception of the No Child Left Behind Act most schools have eliminated recess, even nap times for four year olds, and the curriculum has been stripped of the arts, social studies and project-based learning.  Instead of places of learning, growing, exploring and developing, our schools have become miserable test prep centers.

Students in the United States are dropping out of school at the rate of 7,000 students per day!  Our schools have become known as “pipelines to prison” and “test prep factories”.  How will our country survive without educated citizens?  It cannot!

Turkish educators know that we must educate the whole child. In the United States, in many schools, children are not treated with respect; from the drab, prison-like, and sometimes crumbling facilities to the standardized testing mania we see abundant evidence that the needs of a developing, precious child are not considered. 

The designers of the Turkish schools we visited took great time and paid great attention to detail, creating a learning environment which was overwhelmingly beautiful, creating multiple places which invite the children to explore, to read, investigate and create.  The colors used and the works of art, both student and teacher displays, were literally breathtaking.

Turkish educators understand that contact with nature is not an option.  They understand that children have a need for time to play.  They understand that the arts are not optional, and their students enjoy painting, music, dance, drama, sculpture and much more.  They understand that children are curious by nature.  They understand that children should be treated with respect. 

We visited three cafeterias, and in fact, had lunch in the high school cafeteria one day.  All the cafeterias had a wall of huge windows the length of the cafeteria, and a view of nature.  This allowed the cafeteria to use natural light rather than harsh fluorescent lighting.  Studies have confirmed that natural lighting in schools has many benefits, from lowering the amount of tooth decay to calming effects on students and to higher levels of learning. 

The tables had baskets of bread, pitchers of water and water glasses – K-12.  The high school tables had white tablecloths.  There was complete order and peace.  The children in these schools do not get rushed through an unappetizing lunch, they dine on healthy, fresh, delicious food.



The Arts

Beatles collage Students at easels in foyer of high school    Student painting


I was astonished by how much the arts are integrated into the curriculum.  Student art is everywhere.  And I was pleased to be able to bring home several pieces of which I am quite proud.  The legacy of Aataturk is alive and well.  He said:  “Bir millet sanattan ve sanatkardan mahrumsa tam bir hayata malik olamaz. Böyle bir millet bir ayağı topal, bir kolu çolak, sakat ve alil bir kimse gibidir. Sanatsız kalan bir milletin hayat damarlarından biri kopmuş olur.” 


“A nation deprived of art and artists cannot be said to possess full life.  Such a nation is like a sick person whose arms and legs are crippled.  A nation left without art has been deprived one of the arteries of life.”

The halls of the schools we visited were veritable art galleries.  The high school displayed enormous student paintings, such as those shown below, as well as collages, dioramas and various types of sculptures.



Below are beautiful plates which the students at Suleyman Elementary painted.


School and Classroom Environments

I noticed that the students, from K-12, all seemed to be extremely happy, polite and very well-mannered.  The high school students which I had more opportunity to spend time with astounded me with their self-confidence, creativity, manners and intelligence.  They were extremely well-spoken.

Students at the schools we visited were respected and loved, and were treated like people.  They responded with respect for each other, the teachers and the school property.  Here are two examples:

At Suleyman Elementary, a public school, we were watching a group of students playing on the playground.  A piece of paper blew across the yard, and a young boy broke away from the game to run after the paper, grabbed it and took it to a trash receptacle.  Here is a photo of the students at Suleyman Elementary greeting Jerry Self of 21st Century Schools.


Jerry Self meets students on playground at Suleyman Elementary.  We have never seen students that were so happy, confident, polite and well-mannered.   These students were all playing a song on their recorders when we entered the classroom.  They didn't miss a note!  Suleyman Elementary School


TED Ankara College (a private high school) we were amazed by many things.  We had lunch there one day in the cafeteria.  The cafeteria tables had white tablecloths, baskets of bread, pitchers of water and water glasses.  There was total order and peace.  Here is the high school cafeteria we saw. 



Below is a photo of the kindergarten cafeteria at Maya Elementary School.

Perhaps not all children in Turkey have these facilities; perhaps not all of them are future statesmen or scientists.  I do know that the Republic of Turkey recognizes the high priority of education, and they are extremely committed to provide excellence in education to all their children.



Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fair

We visited TED Ankara Koleji (a private high school) on a day when they were having an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fair.  Teams of students were demonstrating their ideas for new products and businesses.  This was not what we in the USA think of as a typical “science fair”.

The event began with speeches by Selçuk Pehlivanoğlu, President of the Turkish Education Association;  The Assistant Minister of Education for the Republic of Turkey; and the U. S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr.  


Selçuk Pehlivanoğlu, President of the Turkish Education Association, gives opening remarks at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fair

Meeting U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone


Then each of the guest dignitaries, speakers for the conference and our spouses, if present, were given a checkbook with ten checks for $1,000 USD each.  We were to review the exhibits and award checks to those which we chose.  These checks were real money!  Every team, even if they were not in the top three, received the funds from the checks they were awarded to further the research and development on their project!

Anne Shaw writes check for $1,000 to this student team.


Wealth, Poverty, Education and Test Scores

Some of you may be dismissing some of the examples of excellence by thinking it's just the private, wealthy schools who do all these wonderful things and have great test scores.  Turkey has a greater percentage of its population living below the poverty level than does the United States.  The public school we visited was equally involved in the arts, had high expectations, respected children as children by providing an educational experience geared toward the whole child.  The difference is that the whole of Turkey is committed, they have decided, upon excellence in education for all citizens.  And they will get there!

As far as test scores are concerned, we all know that in the USA test prep has replaced authentic curriculum.  We test, test, test our students.  We also know that our students are far behind many other countries such as Finland.  Why is that?  First of all, Finland hires its teachers from the top 10% of college graduates.  Second, they use the PISA test, and those tests are only utilized every few years, and they only test some of the students.  It's a sampling method.  Third, they do not dictate to the teachers what to do in their classrooms.  They allow them to use their intelligence and creativity.  The result?  The students flourish.

Notice the PISA scores from 2009.  Turkish student scores are not much lower than American students.  Why don't we use the PISA, too, and let our teachers teach! 



Reinventing Education – global, diverse and personalized

There are schools in the US and elsewhere that have succeeded in reinventing education; they serve as excellent examples of what works – and each of them is unique.  There is nothing wrong with standards, but standardization is another matter.  For many decades education has been all about memorizing, testing, then forgetting discrete facts and data.  That may have been appropriate, or at least worked, for the Industrial Age – factory model schooling to train people to work in factories.  But our society has changed, and education must change.  Even Selçuk Pehlivanoğlu reminds us of two of Einstein’s quotes[i]:

“To keep doing the same thing over and over, then expect different results, is insanity.”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Mr. Pehlivanoğlu urges us to realize that unless we have a paradigm shift in how we view education, we are guaranteeing failure for our country.  He states that we must stop thinking that the teacher is the main source of information.  And we must design educational experiences to develop innovation and creativity.[ii]

As Dr. Yong Zhao says, our goal should be diversity – in society and in education.  Cookie cutter schools and standardization are not the path to true educated, thinking, creative, happy citizens.  See Dr. Zhao’s video on No Child Left Behind and Global Competitiveness






Recommendations for USA

The United States must renew (or create) a total dedication to education for the 21st century.  This includes:

1.  Abolish the No Child Left Behind Act

2.  Eliminate Race to the Top

3.  Increase funding for education to all schools – go to the private sector, to foundations, and to the federal government.  Do not allow these donors to dictate the curriculum or how schools will be run.  For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated huge amounts of money to education, but they are also supporting the standardized testing mania that is destroying education.

4.  Assessment - Change the assessment/testing system – utilize the PISA test as so many other countries do.  They do not test every single student several times per year.  They do test samples every few years. 

5.  Spending Transfer funds spent on creating, printing, administering and grading standardized tests to providing funds which will move our schools into the 21st century.  Purchase 21st century tools for students.  Instead of textbooks, which are out-of-date by the time they are distributed, provide them with electronic textbooks via a tablet computer such as Samsung, which have many excellent applications for students.

6.  Time -  Utilize time that has been spent on test prep and testing to design and implement a 21st century curriculum, to provide teachers with adequate professional development, and create flexible school schedules which allow for implementation of 21st century curriculum.

7.   Diverse Schools - Allow local communities to create schools according to their unique needs and interests.  There are many excellent examples of successful, unique schools to provide inspiration.

8.  Smaller Learning Communities with Flexible Schedules - school schedules with 50 minute class periods are one of the greatest obstacles to authentic learning.  Smaller learning communities can be created within schools with a large student population.  This allows an interdisciplinary team of teachers to work with a group of 100 students;  the teachers have the opportunity to get to really know their students;  the students get to know each other and their teachers.  This allows teachers to be able to help individual students according to their unique needs, talents and interests.

9.  Teachers - Hire teachers from the top 10% of their graduating university classes instead of from the lowest 5%, and pay them accordingly.

10.  Universities - Redesign teacher education programs; bring them into the 21st century.

11.  Curriculum -

  • Integrate the arts, social studies, physical education, and recess into the school day.

  • Simplify the curriculum offerings by eliminating or combining courses

  • Integrate the disciplines as much as possible so that students can learn through a rigorous, relevant, real world, project-based curriculum

12. Shorten, not lengthen, the school day. 

13.  Innovative After School Programs - Create wonderful after school programs to serve children whose parents or caretakers have to work until 5 or 6, or later.  Be sure that these after school programs offer a wide variety of activities, not just a continuation of the school day.  Tutoring can be done on as as-needed basis.  After school programs could include activities such as art, dance, drama, video game design, various sports, culinary arts, service learning projects, robotics, filmmaking and much more.

14.  Focus on what really matters in education.  See Critical Attributes of 21st Century Education, Multiple Literacies for the 21st Century, and my evolving essay, "What is 21st Century Education?"   

15.  Professional Staff Development - teachers in countries that score higher on their PISA tests also have much more time allotted to professional development.  Make time for quality professional development.  Realize that effective professional development will not result from the current practices of "drive by", "one-shot", "variety pack" workshops.

16.  Global Classrooms - get your schools and classrooms into the 21st century.  The classroom is no longer the four walls;  the classroom today is the world.  Get your students involved in global, collaborative classroom projects.



As the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said,


“Öğretmenler olur bir ve uluslar kurtaran sadece insanlar.” 


Translation:  Teachers are the one and only people who save nations.



[i] Pehlivanoğlu, Selçuk.  Opening remarks at the Education Innovation Forum, May 14, 2011. 

[ii] ibid




Becoming a 21st Century School

Workshop Schedule

Professional Dev.