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23 June 2021

This unprecedented past year has left deep scars on Turkey in many ways. One such outcome of the pandemic that will last for years is the effects on schooling, as online teaching has left millions of students behind. Turkey’s Education Ministry had trumpeted its vision for the country’s centenary in 2023. But just how realistic is this vision? And can we implement it?

Just before I sat down to write this article, I did my best to ‘watch’ a middle school lesson on TV. The teacher was a lively woman using her voice like a stage actor. As the topic was environmental protection, I was sucked in immediately.

But after 10 minutes, I felt I needed coffee, so I went to the kitchen to make some. I was still trying to listen to what she was saying – I was, after all, interested in the subject. But when I returned with my coffee, I couldn’t resist looking at my cellphone and checking social media. The sound of the TV began to grate, so I put the lively woman on mute. Then, I turned my attention to the magazines on the coffee table. After that, my eye was drawn to the new books I had just gotten.

There were too many things to do, too many things to read, watch, listen, and write.

Something occurred to me during this experience. A young person must have an immense passion for learning to be able to sit and ‘watch’ these televised or online classes.

When they have neither the obligation nor the inclination, they can’t continue following these lessons after 15 minutes; in fact, even if they have the inclination, they can hardly remain focused after a quarter of an hour. The first question that came to mind was, “Did we actually teach them to love learning before the pandemic, before everything?”

And the second thing that came to my mind was pity for the teacher. The poor teacher was watched by not only her students, but also parents, grandparents, the education minister and weirdos like me – anybody in the universe really. How difficult it must be for her to continue the class under this Benthamian surveillance, trying to be serious but also interesting at the same time.

If it were in a real classroom, she would probably start a lively discussion to draw kids’ attention, make a joke or even jump up and down if needed. But before the cameras, she can’t do anything but ask rhetorical questions, answer them on behalf of the unseen students, and then congratulate them. Hers must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

But the parents’ job is not easier in these COVID times either. If they have the luxury of working from home, they must play the role of the teacher and ensure the kids are in front of the TV or the online classes on time. This requires them to exercise a lot of discipline on their children and, most probably, damages the traditional happy, post-school reunion.

One may think the parents at least would make sure their kids follow the lessons in one way or another. But as we all know, there are many ways students can cheat parents and teachers when the sound of the TV is on or in the case of online classes, the cameras are off.

Learning in COVID times

We have yet to see the results of this online education experiment. But according to a teacher friend of mine, there is already one result: Eighth graders have returned to in-person education for a limited period. My friend said the students all just sat in the classroom and remained unresponsive to whatever she said or asked. It was like they were watching a movie.


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