TBY talks to Devrim Karaaslanlı, CEO of Bahçeşehir Schools, on the growing need for technology in schools, the demand for private education, and what it takes to prepare students for national exams.

Devrim Karaaslanlı
Devrim Karaaslanlı has a Master’s degree in Economics and Statistics from Michigan State University. He started his professional career at the Federal Reserve Board in the US. He worked as an economist at the Kansas City and Boston branches of the Federal Reserve Board between 2001 and 2005. In 2005, he joined Anatolian Industrial Holding as a financial controller for one year. He then joined Vodafone Turkey as a manager in the Department of Auditing, Financial Planning, and Technology Finance. Before joining Bahçeşehir Schools as CEO, he worked as Vice-President of Finance at Provus Informatics for two years.

How would you describe Bahçeşehir Schools' educational philosophy?

At Bahçeşehir Schools, we consider ourselves leaders in the field of education. Our educational philosophy places the student at the center of the learning process. We believe that children are competent learners that develop in many ways and at various rates. However, all children are similar in terms of their need for a base of nurturing, secure, and enabling relationships. We seek to promote the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical growth of each child within an inspiring and nurturing environment. Bahçeşehir Schools has 43 campuses, 33 primary schools, 16 high schools, and 48 pre-kindergartens. At Bahçeşehir schools, we are always willing to bring in innovations and introduce the most recent technological educational tools to our students on each of these campuses. We believe in the necessity of integrating ICT in our teaching and learning processes. Thus, we highly prioritize the use of interactive whiteboards, smart TVs, iPads, and PCs. In cooperation with our universities, we also follow the most recent educational trends and implement those in our schools, such as the Global Citizenship Bilingual Program. Moreover, we aim to transform all of our schools into Digital World Schools. Our academic staff designs and writes the curricula and the content to be used in our iPad experiential learning sessions. We are privileged to have the facilities to publish our own educational materials.

How would you explain the demand for private schools in Turkey?

Education in Turkey is generally governed by the national system. In fact, 98% of Turkish children go to public schools. However, there is huge demand for private schools in Turkey. When compared with OECD countries, the demand for private schools is about 12%. Turkey has significantly expanded access to education in the last decade, but remaining challenges wait on two key fronts; quality and equity, as stated in a recent World Bank report. The highest performing education systems are those that combine equity with quality. School failure penalizes a child for life. Educational failure also imposes high costs on society. The statistical data confirms that after years of schooling, many students who graduate from secondary schools do not reach even the minimum level of skills required for their development. Improvement starts with changes in teaching and learning focusing on student success. When the support practices in OECD countries are observed, some key findings such as school leadership, high-quality teachers, coaching and mentoring programs, context-specific academic improvement strategies, efficient use of a variety of resources, formal common planning time at school, merit-recognition, individualized learning models, the use of ICT, and continuous in-service training can be listed. Considering all of these factors, it can easily be said that the education offered in private schools is better than that offered in public schools. For instance, at Bahçeşehir Schools, our priority is to use the most effective learning models that are based on a set of guiding principles, which take equity and equality in teaching and learning into account. These guiding principles include creating learner-centered and child-friendly learning environments, using social, inclusive, personalized, structured, and well-designed curricula, which promote inquiry and autonomous learning. Within the scope of the private school education industry and market in Turkey, Bahçeşehir Schools have substantially grown over the past 20 years since our foundation in 1994. Bahçeşehir Schools rank among the most prestigious educational institutions across the country and abroad, and continue to be the leaders in the field of education.

What makes Bahçeşehir Schools unique in the private education system in Turkey?

We provide our students with a variety of academic programs and the most up-to-date educational tools at our different school campuses, such as Bahçeşehir Science and Technology High School. Bahçeşehir Science and Technology High School, which opened in 2006, has proven to be the most successful high school in Turkey through its national and international achievements and awards in competitions, as well as its outstanding academic success. All students at the high school win full-tuition scholarships. These students are accepted by the most prestigious universities all around the world and are often awarded merit-based scholarships that are based on their academic, athletic, artistic, and other abilities. During its third year of education, Bahçeşehir Science and Technology High School increased its admission rates by accepting students with the top 100 scores on the National High School Placement Exam (SBS). In other words, we accept the top 24 students among a population of 1.5 million across the country. The Turkish educational system is based on numerous standardized exams. Students who attend private schools receive a high-quality education and they achieve great success in all national placement exams as well as international exams such as TOEFL, IELTS, and the SAT. These students easily pass the exams and become eligible to study at prestigious universities both in Turkey and abroad. The reason why Turkey has such a large number of exam preparation centers is that students who do not have the opportunity to attend private schools opt to take remedial courses in order to be successful in national placement exams. As a consequence, many exam preparation centers have opened all around Turkey. Bahçeşehir Schools opened Uğur Exam Preparation Centers across the country. In total, there are 200 of our centers offering high-quality exam preparation programs for a variety of purposes in order to meet different requirements and the needs of students from grade one to 12. In these centers, we work with highly qualified teachers and our resource center offers our students a rich learning environment. We provide our students with academic support to bolster their study habits and hone in on their study strategies. We also offer one-on-one sessions with peers and professionals, as well as a variety of workshops. We focus on promoting a disciplined approach to study, fostering active and independent learning, developing an awareness and understanding of one's own thought process, and advocating the strategic use of resources that are available in the centers. Our centers serve as academic referral, training, and information resources for all of our students. We also work in collaboration with Bahçeşehir University's Faculty of Education. The faculty provides comprehensive teacher training to all of our academic staff. In other words, Bahçeşehir University represents a network of scholars with a shared focus and a set of goals that reflect a true sense of community.

“When compared with OECD countries, the demand for private schools is about 12%."

How important it is for Bahçeşehir University to develop international connections?

Every year, Bahçeşehir University welcomes hundreds of international scholars and students to its campus and sends hundreds of Turkish students abroad, offering opportunities not only for study, but to share cultures and foster respect for and an understanding of differences. At Bahçeşehir University, international programs and connections function as catalysts for internationalization and hubs for foreign activities. These programs provide leadership and support for internationally oriented teaching, research, and creative work. To this end, Bahçeşehir University aims to promote international scholarships, educational exchange, and linkages with individuals and institutions abroad. Bahçeşehir University has opened campuses in Germany (Berlin), the US (San Diego), Canada (Toronto), Azerbaijan, and Singapore. Our basic purpose is to further globally oriented knowledge and activities across the world and help create a community and society responsive to the increasing global needs and obligations of citizenship.