I’m still in Turkey. This seemed relevant so I am cross-posting it from my trip blog.
We learned today why other countries are eating our lunch when it comes to education. We paid a visit to Ibrahim Büyükkoyuncu hıgh school on the outskirts of Konya, a provincial capital in south-central Turkey. It’s a private Gülen school for boys grades 9-12. Actually, it’s two schools in one (and there is a girl’s equivalent across town) – one focused on sciences, one on languages.
Before I describe the graduation requirements, think about where you or your children attend or attended high school. Three years of math, maybe three of science, right? If you were a math and science geek, you could elect to take four years of each.
OK, get a load of this: Students in the science school must take four years of physics, four years of chemistry, four years of biology and four years of math. In the 14 public science high schools, students must take at least five hours of math per week and three hours each of the three science subjects. At Büyükkoyuncu, though, each of those requirements is doubled.
So not only are these top students, the ones against whom our top students will be competing, taking science all four years of high school, they’re actually taking the equivalent of 12 years. And where our students might be taking five to seven hours per week of math and the same amount of science…well, you get the picture. Oh, and the school day is nine hours long.
I’m not trying to go all Thomas Friedman on you, but isn’t it glaringly obvious why U.S. students fare so badly on international comparisons? And the empirical evidence I gathered today suggests that the gap would be even greater if we compared our top students to, say, Turkey’s.
I wrote on this blog last week that I wasn’t overly impressed with the Gülen school in Izmir, not because it wasn’t a fine school, but because it was the equivalent of an elite private U.S. school, filled with kids from wealthy families. It’s a lot easier to be a top performer when you’re working with kids from wealthy families. Study after study has shown this to be true.
Such is not the case at Büyükkoyuncu. Yes, the kids are high-performing, especially those at the science school. To gain admittance, they must ace a 100-question test, which, according to physics teacher Murat Demirors, is a difficult test of general scholastic aptitude.
“You had better score a 97 or higher if you want to have a chance to get in,” said Demirors, who earned a master’s degree in physics from City University of New York. But the students who get in come from all walks of life.
“Teaching here is a challenge because the students are really good,” Demirors said as we ate a four-course school cafeteria lunch (it was superb and may well have been several cuts above what the students get, but I’ll never know for sure). “As a teacher, you have to be prepared every day. I have to study two hours each night to keep ahead of the students.”
Here’s one of several kickers: All 110 science students get full scholarships. That’s right. It costs them nothing to attend one of the top 10 private high schools in Turkey. Students in the other section of the school pay $4,500 per year, plus $1,700 for students who board at the school (200 of the 600). But 30 percent of the language-focused students are on full scholarships as well.
Alptekin said that the school solicits donations from businessmen in Konya to fund scholarships.
The school’s origins also demonstrate a commitment to education that surpasses ours. A man named Ibrahim Büyükkoyuncu, a Gülen follower, donated the land on which the school sits some 20 years ago. It’s on the outskirts of town and was well outside the city limits back then. But a new university is opening nearby, and the area is crazy with construction.
In any event, Büyükkoyuncu, an elderly and successful businessman, donated not only the land but enough money to fund the school’s construction. But the money ran out before the school’s founders could buy furniture or educational materials. At that point, Büyükkoyuncu sold his apartment in Konya so he could see the job finished.
“He said his dream was to see students in this school,” according to Hanifi Davarci, the principal. Büyükkoyuncu saw his dream come true. He died, in his early 90s, a year after the school opened 14 years ago.
How do followers of Gülen explain their overriding commitment to education? “Turkey has a very large popuation of young people,” Davarci said. “The only way to a bright future for our country is give all these young people an excellent education.
“We love human beings, that is our main philosophy of education. That is why we are opening schools like this all over the world.”
There are over 1,000 Gülen schools in Turkey alone. Over 4,500 students attend Gülen schools in Konya. It’s a growing movement, and it’s hard to imagine its influence doing anything but grow in the years to come.
Popularity: 8% [?]