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Turkey 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: PREP SCHOOL CONVERSION

What to do when the public secondary school system is entirely inadequate in preparing pupils for an unforgiving university entrance exam? For a long time the answer has been a large network of prep schools, but that may be about to change.

When parliament voted back in February 2014 to shut down the private Dershane, or prep school, system, thousands of students throughout the country breathed a sigh of relief. Until now, the prospect of the 3pm bell has heralded not the end of the day's academic pursuits, but only the halfway mark, when students traipse across town for another round of lessons. Some even attend Dershane at the weekend, in the hope of cramming enough knowledge into their already-crowded brains to succeed at the once-yearly university entrance exam. What comes next, however, is yet to be seen, although the state is confident that the prep schools can be easily converted into conventional private schools and some of their teaching staff absorbed into the state school system based on an oral exam.

But that will be no easy task. Since 2000, the number of Dershane have increased from 1,730 firms and 174,500 students to 4,055 firms and 1.2 million students in 2012. Every year, almost 2 million students sit the university entrance exam, making Dershane a big business, especially considering that only 300,000 will be accepted into university. The system itself has also become incredibly competitive, with schools competing to pump out as many top students as possible in order to draw in a bigger congregation the following year. As far as the government is concerned, abolishing the system entirely will work only to boost equal access to education. And it's hard to argue with that; going to Dershane can vary wildly in cost, but the average is TRY2,000--around $800--meaning that the 18% of the population living below the poverty line is largely cut off from higher education, or must commit to debts in order to gain access. Reporting on the subject, Jadaliyya, an independent news portal, also brings to light a reality it refers to as a “slap in the face to the public school system," with students often limiting school attendance in their final years in order to spend more time at Dershane.
That being said, the closure of the Dershane will not solve the education sector's more embedded challenges, i.e. overcrowding, inadequate teacher training, and a shaky national curriculum. On top of that, the richest families will still be able to send their children to private tutors, while many others will likely languish in the state system. A question also remains as to the LGS exam, which regulates access to the country's best high schools, and for which the Dershane also offers courses. But for now, the Dershane are set to enter a conversion program some time before the end of the 2017-18 academic year, later than the original date of September 1st, 2015.

With education reform having been at the forefront of AKP policy for some years, it remains to be seen how this development will fit into the bigger picture once the transition is complete. One thing is certain, however: the change will be nothing but monumental, even if it does just mean students get to stay home on weekends.