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
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
Teachers Are the One and Only People
Who Save Nations –
a lesson from Turkey
International Education Forum:
Innovation in Education
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Plate purchased in Beypazari. Hande
recommend this one because it incorporated art from the ancient
Left to right:
Levent Okut and
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!
shows us the student garden;
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
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
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
Presidential Secretary General
Ahmet Eti CEO, Sebit,
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
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.
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".
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
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,
Students at easels in foyer of high school
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
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
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.
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
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”.
Selçuk Pehlivanoğlu, President of the Turkish
Education Association, gives opening remarks at the Innovation
and Entrepreneurship Fair
Meeting U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis
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
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
“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
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
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
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.
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.
Universities - Redesign teacher education programs; bring them into the
Integrate the arts, social studies, physical education, and
recess into the school day.
curriculum offerings by eliminating or combining courses
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.
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.
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.
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
Translation: Teachers are the one and only people who save