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Jan 08

ELT In Turkey From My Eyes

Becoming a teacher was one of the best decisions of my life. Since I found myself in a global staff room where I have contact with wonderful teachers from all around the world, I’ve been feeling more lucky and privileged. I think blogging and Twitter are very important turning points in my professional life. Both blogging and Twitter made me a strong believer in the incredible power of sharing knowledge. Sharing ideas, resources and experiences with colleagues from different countries also increased my curiosity about different cultures and education systems.

I’ve been thinking about how English is taught in different countries. It is very clear that learning English is considered very important all around the world and education system authorities and governments are trying their best for their young population to start learning English at early ages and learn it well. Different systems are implemented in different countries. I read and heard about the systems of a few countries and I am really interested in learning more.

 I invite teachers who read this entry to share their reflections about ELT in their countries at K-12 level. I think it will be a very useful series of blog posts for all of us.

Some questions that might help us:

  • When do children start learning English in different countries? How many hours of English do they have in a week?
  • Are they taught English through other subjects? If yes, does this system work well?
  • Are teachers encouraged to use specific methods in their lessons?
  • Is there a national curriculum? Are schools free to create their own syllabi?
  • How is technology used? Are there any policies regarding use of technology?
  • What are the strongest and weakest sides of the system?, etc.

 ***

Let me tell you about the system in Turkey. (I am writing this in the light of my experiences as a teacher who has worked in four different private schools in Istanbul. So, what I have experienced for twelve years cannot fully represent the whole system in Turkey.) In terms of English programs, there is a considerable difference between state schools and private schools. In private schools, children start learning English at the age of 4 (might be even 2 or 3 in some schools). In primary school, there is, on average, 7-8 hours of English in a week (this might go up to 12 hours in some schools). Although the value and importance of an interdisciplinary approach is always emphasized, I haven’t experienced a school system where teachers of all subject areas work collaboratively and plan their lessons together (except one of the schools I worked that implement Primary Years Program (PYP), and I must admit that it was not an easy thing to do because there were quite a lot of ‘experienced’ teachers who were having difficult times internalizing the concept of ‘working collaboratively’.)

There is a national curriculum but it is designed for state schools and the English program starts in Grade 4 in state schools (with fewer hours than private schools). Therefore private schools implement their own programs (in line with the Ministry’s principles). Teachers are expected to use modern methods like communicative method but, I believe, there is a strong tendency to use mechanical approches and it is often paid lip service to ‘using communicative method’. This has several reasons and I don’t think this is a Turkey-specific problem. Regarding technology use, I can say there are more teachers who are reluctant to use Edtech tools than teachers who embrace technology and use the available tools effectively. Unfortunately, it becomes a complete waste of lesson hours if teachers adopt a mechanical approach and do not benefit from technology.

I think the solutions to the terrible “no-tech+mechanical approach to teaching” combination are:

  • a better pre-service teacher education system
  • school principals = visionary leaders
  • regular, frequent & effective in-service training systems
  • successful performance management systems
  • better work conditions (fewer lesson hours, better salaries, good quality equipment & hardware)
  • clear school policies about every aspect of teaching & learning process
  • consequently, a system that takes demotivated and passionless people out of the profession who might be happy and productive in another career.

Well, yes, I was telling you about the system in Turkey but I guess I went deeper and started dreaming. :)

The closer we get to this vision, the more effective our education system can be, and this brings success to the ELT programs as well.

Yes, this is briefly “ELT in Turkey” from my eyes.*

I am looking forward to hearing your reflections which I would like to publish as a guest blog series called “ELT in My Country”.

I will get in touch with you if you drop me a line using the contact form.

Thank you!

* As I mentioned above, these are my personal opinions and limited to my experiences and observations and do not fully represent the big picture in Turkey. The big picture is more complex and I want to write about it as well after some more reading & thinking. :)

15 comments

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  1. Tony GURR

    Burcu,

    From little acorns do mighty oaks grow – nothing wrong with “dreams” at all…if only there were more “dreamers”, we might have a better world…or at least better school systems!

    I think what you have done is “pull your punches” a little (you are, I know, too nice for your own good) – ELT or EDUcation (in general) in “our” world needs a dramatic “re-thunk”…and “our” world is not that unlike the rest of the world, can?m hocam!

    We need “dreamers”…but we also we need “thunking doers” who will make a “real difference” to the way we “do” business in canim Türkiyem…and not prioritise personal gain over the value-added LEARNing can give to so many of “our children”.

    I doubt many will disagree with what you suggest…regardless of where in the world “their world” is 😉

    T..

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Tony,

      Thank you for your comment. First I want to say that I love the way you put the words together in your blog and the images you use that make your messages stronger. It is a very unique style and obviously you do a lot of thinking there:)

      You’re right about dreaming, and as John Lennon said “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” :)

      Since my son started school, I’ve been experiencing the way teachers approach their jobs and the education system from a different perspective and this made me start ‘dreaming’ and ‘thinking’ more.

      Even though I cannot do anything about my son’s daily homework assignments which I really don’t get the point of, writing about the problems and possible solutions, and sharing ideas with likeminded people helps me feel better. :)

      Burcu

  2. Pinar Destanoglu

    Burcu, I definetely agree with the solutions you’ve offered. Especially with the “clear school policies” because using technology in a school is a matter of investment more than anything. I worked in schools where they supplied anything about technology and all the teachers used them all. (Actually, had to use them all cos they had no excuses not to and were observed frequently.) I can hear some people saying “First of all, you should volunteer for it.Then, you can do several technology related things by yourself in your classroom.” Correct, however what I am trying to point out is that if it is a school policy, there is “no way out” for anyone. (for the teachers who insist on sticking to the course books and the
    board:( )
    Second crucial step is “pre and in-service teacher training programmes”. Schools can encourage and support their teachers to train themselves and give bonuses for these trainings. For example, some schools add extra points to the salary scales of teachers having certain certificates, masters degree, etc … .
    The last but not the least one is “better working conditions” like fewer hours of teaching, better salaries,… which increases the motivation and helps us to be more passionate teachers:)

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi P?nar,

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that ‘there is no way out’ system does work for some people, especially for those who do not have an inner generator of self-motivation. I also agree that recognizing people’s efforts to develop themselves is what every school system must have. Just like teachers are expected to recognize their students’ efforts and achievements.

      Burcu

  3. Gita

    Dear Burcu,

    I loved your post and I am with you in your dreams. I guess we all should dream and then share our dreams and then make it real. I agree with all the imprtant issues that you mentioned in your post and I hope there will be more people who really do care about improving the educational system with more realistic ways rather than keeping busy with unnecessary paper work and useless time-consuming tasks of hardly no benefit. All the best!

    1. burcuakyol

      Thanks for the comment Gita!:) I’m looking forward to hearing about the systems in other countries from likeminded educators’ perspectives.

      Burcu

  4. Mike Harrison

    Hi Burcu,

    First of all, this is a lovely post. I do so enjoy to read about other’s experiences of ELT and education from around the world. I guess I am much more inclined to enjoy qualitative, rather than quantitative, reporting in this way.

    You make the point that this post is merely your experience, but I think that is so vital in terms of moving forward – to really look at where we are or where we have been.

    I really look forward to hearing from your readers about their experiences.

    Best,

    Mike

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment. That’s why I really liked the Learning English Video Project idea (http://www.englishclub.com/learning-english-video/about.htm).

      Because I am also interested in the systems as well as individual experiences, I wanted ask people to contribute and tell us about ELT in their countries.

      I’m looking forward to hearing about different experiences, too:)

      Burcu

  5. Henrick Oprea

    Hi Burcu,

    I couldn’t agree more with you when you said, “I don’t think this is a Turkey-specific problem.” Many of the things you mentioned in your post are also true of Brazil, or at least the schools I’ve been in contact with or worked in. This is probably the reason why there are so many language institutes all over the country, and many of which are run by people who only see in this a way to make money and who know squat about education.

    It sometimes feels good to hear that we’re not alone, but I cannot feel particularly happy when I see that we’ve been facing some serious challenges worldwide education-wise. And it seems that the challenges are likely to be the same – lack of good working conditions, lots of people who seem to be teaching because they couldn’t succeed in other areas and, hence, are completely passionless, ‘experienced’ teachers who have been doing the very same things for 10+ years.. The list goes on.

    Yet, as many people have said in their comments, and you in your post, it’s important for us to keep our dreams alive, and what better way to do so than by the connection we’ve all been able to create through the world of blogs and twitter, huh?! It’s also been a huge turning point in my career, and it’s helped me keeping the dream alive in my mind as well.

    I liked the idea of this series… let’s see what we can do about it and let’s hope other people take up the challenge as well. We might come up with good ideas to solve some of the problems, right?!

    Cheers!!!

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Henrick,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. Actually, Brazil is one of the countries I really want to learn about. Would you consider writing a guest blog about ELT in Brazil?

      Thanks:)

      Burcu

  6. Mehmet Çekin

    I reciprocate with thanks.

    An authentic depiction of the situation!

    Some parents, being of the old school, should be on the list of the solutions to the terrible “no-tech+mechanical approach to teaching” combination – that is to say, there are a lot of parents out there who continue to resist changes. They are still in favor of no-tech traditional education.

  7. melike

    I totally agree with you dearest Burcu. I have a project classroom and I try my students to speak but what they learn in the English lesson isn’t supported by Turkish lesson. Although this year we have 6 hours at 5th grades at a state school, I think students have some gaps about “learning a foreign language”.
    This is our facebook group page and I try them to learn and live English. https://www.facebook.com/groups/englishclassroom/

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Melike,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Having a Facebook group is a wonderful idea. Do you use other web tools in your classes?

      Burcu

  8. Tlumacz Angielskiego, Warszawa

    I started teaching my daughter when she was 3. Otherwise I would have to wait 3 more years for the state classes in public school with no guarantee of efficiency. The reality in Poland is that you must pay for extra English classes from the very beginning of education, which is a kindergarten, at the age of 3. No publicly owned kindergarten offers such an option for free. Then you start school at the age of 6 and you have English classes…aditionally paid. Some schools include English classes in their “package.”

  9. Justin Tapp

    “I haven’t experienced a school system where teachers of all subject areas work collaboratively and plan their lessons together.”

    I doubt that exists across subjects in any country, really. At the kolej I was teaching at in Ankara, however, the English teachers did plan collaboratively. Students have a “reading and writing” native Turkish teacher four hours and “speaking and listening” native English speaking teachers four hours a week. We would meet the week prior to develop a “pacing plan” of what vocabulary and grammar concepts would be covered the following week. We’d share what activities we were doing and what pages of textbooks we were omitting, etc. The more experienced teachers didn’t always stick to the written plan, however, and for most the pacing plan was simply paperwork.

    My understanding from talking to many teachers here is that turnover among Foreign Language Coordinators in Turkey can be high, and that’s a weakness. At my kolej, for example, they’d had 4 coordinators in 5 years and different textbooks/methods/expectations each time. When a new coordinator comes in with a new system, everyone rolls their eyes because they assume it will be something else the next year.

    In America, I’d say the vast majority of real ELT is done by volunteers at community centers, churches, and various other non-profits (teaching adult immigrants). It’s generally done for the love and relationships rather than money, so the teaching force tends to have a core of committed individuals with a diaspora of volunteers who burn out or don’t stay committed. But the teaching tends to be non-mechanical, no textbooks (as the courses are cheap or free), heavily TPR, and easily reproducible in multiple environments.

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