First School in Turkey - A personal journey

By: Annie Onursan

I considered myself to be an exemplary ex-pat for the first 14 years I lived in Turkey. I learnt the language, embraced the customs and tried to see two sides to the story if ever there was any Turkey bashing going on. For a few years I was probably more Turkish than my Ankara educated husband but when my only daughter started school, I started questioning whether I could adapt to the local educational standards. When she was tiny, I laughed off complete strangers stopping the pushchair in the street and scolding me for not putting socks and boots on her waggling feet. I thought it unlikely she’d catch a chill in the blood-boiling summer heat, but I was less forgiving when I picked her up from nursery school and found all the adults sitting around the TV watching a Brazilian soap and blowing smoke over the heads of the toddlers on their laps. She came to the office with me after that. At 5 years old, she went to the local school’s pre-infants class. As learning to read and write was forbidden at that age, they spent the day playing or so I thought. I once arrived early to collect her and found the classroom empty. In a panic that I had missed out on some vital information, I paced up and down until a group of hyper infants pranced through the gate. The newly opened Burger King had offered free meals and off they had all trotted to be filled up with cola and e-numbers; a crime only marginally more acceptable than the crack dealer at the school gate proffering drugs to juveniles in my anti-fast food brain. It gradually dawned on me that once my daughter crossed the school gate, she was in the hands of the institution and I had little, if any, control over her. Trips were organized in seatbelt-less buses, which parents only learnt about afterwards. Vaccines were administered without parental permission (she had three jabs against measles so should be safe in the current UK epidemic) and the daily snack box filled at home had to contain, to my mind, the oddest of ingredients; cold fried potatoes being the only one I can remember now. At 6, we joined the First School. The morning started beautifully as we took family photographs of my little girl in her bright blue tunic and pristine white collar. She chattered excitedly as we walked three abreast holding hands all the way to the new school. After being kept corralled in the playground for 2 hours under the burning sun listening to speeches, our hatless family of 3 was beginning to turn against the thoughtless education providers. When we finally crammed into the classroom made for 30 with the 47 other children in her class, we were prickling with anxiety. Leaving her there, three to a desk made for two, was one of the worst moments I can remember. My husband was so unnerved that, unbeknown to me, he went back to the school and furtively spied through the classroom door watching the teacher leaning out of the window and chatting on his phone while the kids looked on. We pulled her out of class the same day and headed off to the only private school in the area, mutually deciding to worry later about how we would pay for it. With modern facilities and a maximum of 16 in a class, my child should have flourished but with an emphasis on learning by rote and a lack of any creative activities, she never settled. Soon she was being kept back after school for extra maths and at 7, was deemed a failure for being unable to memorise the terms of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. After an argument with her English teacher over the correct spelling of dolphin; my daughter was insisting on the “ph”, the camel’s back finally gave way when she solemnly informed me that her teacher said it was ok for her to love her mummy and daddy but she had to love Ataturk more. We soon made plans to move to England to see what a village primary had to offer. I’d love to say that the move all went swimmingly but of course it didn’t. My daughter was 14 before we found a school that had the ethos “every pupil is good at something and it’s the school’s job to find out what that is” rather than make all the kids jump through the same hoop. As a parent who has tried two completely different education cultures, I can honestly say that wherever you choose and however much or little you pay, you will never ever be satisfied. There will always be a gripe and accepting that fact in first grade is good preparation for the journey.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAnnie Onursan is a British expat living in Turkey. Blog description: There are plenty of very good blogs detailing the ex-pat journey through modern Turkey. The aim of this one is to catch sight of past Turkey through my experience of re-settling in modern Bodrum.
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Contest Comments » There are 8 comments

Jack Scott wrote 7 years ago:

I always wondered what I would have been like a parent - terrible probably. I'm sure I would have constantly fretted about where they were, what they were doing, what they were picking up (good and bad things). I'm sure you did the right thing as she's a credit to you both - fun and bright. The Turkish school uniforms are cute though!

Michael West wrote 7 years ago:

Wonderfully written and oh so true:)

Dina wrote 7 years ago:

This made me giggle, as I remember being told that my daughter's obligatory morning packed school snack could not contain bananas, in the event that another child envied the banana but couldn't have one if the family couldn't afford them. I remember volunteering to host free after school English conversation lessons for her kindergarten class, only to be told by local mothers that if the children couldn't speak proper Turkish yet, how on earth would they possibly grasp English at a young age? Parent-teacher meetings involved hairdressers, manicures and carefully planned outfits, as did dining at McDonald's in the early days. They all grow up anyway!

Ozlem's Turkish Table wrote 7 years ago:

Wonderful, very observant article. I studied in Turkey all thru my education (incl. University) and I know what you mean with the crowded classes and all. My parents always had the education as priority, and even though I studied at crowded state schools, I was lucky enough to get some really good teachers - some role models like my English teacher, who infused the love of languages to me. I feel for many Turkish pupils at home with the load of homework, not much quality time with teachers, that University exam and many more and sometimes wonder how would my kids would survive in that system. Now living in Surrey, we had priority of finding the best possible school that fits in with our children's interest and needs and so far so good. Still there are times you question the system and that I feel you need to make sure to be around them to support their learning, feed their interest. A tough ball game and one can only do their best : ) lovely article.

Derek Sadler wrote 7 years ago:

to write aboutany educational matter-particularly schooling- an auther has to firstly be honest with themselves and be unbiased in their views and to differentiate between schooling and learning. Annie appears to have all these attributes. -Schools-particularly State schools -have to conform to the dictates of the authorities within which they exist.-No two countries have the same dictates or financies.-What is especially important is to recognise that any school is better than no school and if one is able to show a child that learning and wanting to learn -overides any dictates that schooling imposes

Mary Bryce wrote 7 years ago:

This article must resonate with so many parents! For me this brought back uncomfortable and long-buried memories of the pains of entrusting shy young children to their first educational institutions - and accepting that even when you want your children to grow up 'taking the rough with the smooth', sometimes there comes a tipping point where the 'rough' is too rough! The author writes with humour,integrity and honesty - and left me wanting to read more!

Idske wrote 7 years ago:

Loved the article! Made me think of what my eldest experienced as he too was in 2 very different educational systems, but only up to Easter in Reception class in one country and the Summer term in England, speaking no English at all and being expected to learn to read and write by the End of July, when that wouldn't be done in the Netherlands for at least another year. He was 4 years and 8 months old! Thankfully he had a teacher who didn't push and let him decide the pace. It seems that your child didn't encounter such a teacher/school until she was 14. Is that bad luck or is the educational system not geared up for less than 'standard' children??? I had to laugh, though: MacDonalds in school time - then just think of how the contents of lunch boxes are scrutinised on a daily basis, to prevent children bringing in 'unsuitable' food items... Thank you, that was not only a thought provoking article, it also made me laugh!

Linda Kaya wrote 7 years ago:

Brilliant article and it makes me feel relieved that I didn't have to put my children through the Turkish education system. These formative years are so important. You're lucky that your daughter has turned out so well.

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