Social, financial troubles, political pressure overshadow Teacher’s Day

Teachers’ Day in Turkey is celebrated each year on Nov. 24, marking the day Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, was declared the nation’s head teacher (Basögretmen) 84 years ago this year.

A recent survey conducted ahead of Teachers’ Day by the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Egitim-İs), with 833 teachers participating from a total of 24 provinces across Turkey, reveals that 73 percent of the teachers are not optimistic about the future, while 70 percent of them say they are not able to express their views freely, and 80 percent feel political pressure at work.

The review also reveals that teachers are suffering from financial troubles due to low wages. Accordingly, 71 percent of the participant teachers say they have credit card debt, while 74 percent of them say they have bank loans. The survey also shows that 46 percent of the teachers receive financial support from their parents.

Commenting on the results of the survey during a press meeting held on Monday, Egitim-İs Chairman Veli Demir said: “Ataturk instructed teachers to build and protect our national integrity in order to make Turkey a modernized country. To emphasize their importance, he said: ‘Those who save a nation are teachers. A nation without teachers cannot be called a nation. It is merely a community, not a nation. A community definitely needs educators and teachers to become a nation.’”

Criticizing the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) education policies, Demir added: “Teachers’ social status, economic, social and personal rights have been regressing, especially during the AK Party rule. Radical changes in the education system, transition of schools, political intervention in the appointment of teachers, appointment of pro-government administrators to schools and altering education on religious grounds deepens the problems that teachers are facing.”

Demir also claimed that the complaint line called “Alo 147” is among the factors that has increased incidents of violence toward teachers. “Teacher training has been politicized and has lost its function. A recent increase in harmful statements from the government as well as its attitude towards teachers and the installment of the Alo 147 anonymous tip line have led to an increase in the violent crimes committed against teachers. There are a number of teachers who lost their lives or experienced serious injuries due to violent acts,” he said.

Another survey titled, “Teachers’ perceptions and experiences of harassment,” conducted by the pro-government Education Personnel Labor Union’s (Egitim Bir-Sen), has revealed that 45 percent of teachers are subjected to harassment during work hours.

Commenting on the results of the survey during a press conference on Monday, Egitim Bir-Sen Deputy Chairman Latif Selvi defines “harassment” as a systematic and deliberate maltreatment of an employee in the workplace, and states that it is harder to eliminate harassment from countries like Turkey where harassment has been used as a political instrument with which to intimidate society.

The survey, which involved 2,039 teachers from 12 provinces across Turkey, also reveals that 25 percent of those teachers claim that harassment negatively affects their work life, while 20 percent of them say that they experience stress related to it.

According to the survey, 75 percent of the respondents say that there a concrete policy has not been adopted by the Education Ministry to prevent harassment in schools.

Calling on the government to take the necessary steps to fight against harassment at schools, the Egitim Bir-Sen’s survey also points at two obstacles that prevent government officials from solving the harassment problem. The first being insufficient social awareness of harassment as a form of violence, and the second being the government’s tendency to overgeneralize when creating solutions to prevent harassment .

Another recent assessment, conducted ahead of Nov. 24’s Teachers’ Day by the Turkish Education Personnel Union (Turk Egitim-Sen), has revealed more than 41 percent of teachers in Turkey are exposed to violence at the hands of parents or students, and the same percentage say they cannot keep up with their credit card payments.

The review, in which 21,333 teachers across the country participated, has revealed serious problems for teachers in Turkey. Almost half of respondents complained of low salaries, saying they do not have enough money to manage their credit card debt. Additionally, 79 percent of teachers take out bank loans, and 50 percent of those say they did so due to financial troubles.

According to the poll, 86.6 percent of teachers said their purchasing power has decreased within the last year, while 27.3 percent of them have sought additional work just to provide for their families.

Just over 41 percent of participants said they are exposed to violence both from parents and students and complained about the Education Ministry’s inefficiency in taking necessary precautions to prevent such violence.

The survey also reveals that 81 percent of teachers said they work under high levels of political pressure, while 87.9 percent of them complained about the government’s politically motivated appointments of pro-government teachers. 35 of the participants said the worst problems in public schools are political appointments of staff and discrimination toward teachers who are not pro-government. Furthermore, 87 percent of teachers interviewed said incompetent principals were appointed to public schools due to their pro-government stance.

In a statement he released on Monday on the occasion of Teachers’ Day, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıcdaroglu complained that teachers in Turkey are being categorized in accordance with their political views or religious beliefs and face political pressure, which he said prevent them from fulfilling their jobs as required.

Bedri Serter, provincial head of the İzmir branch of CHP, also released a written statement to mark the occasion on Monday, warning the AK Party government against doing further harm to teachers, who form the basis of the education system. “As we remind the AK Party government at every occasion, teachers shouldn’t be forced to become an instrument for any political ideology, and they shouldn’t be threatened with dismissal. Important positions in the Education Ministry shouldn’t be filled with inexperienced people just because they are pro-government.”

CHP İzmir deputy Atila Sertel also released a written statement pointing at the increasing number of teachers waiting to be appointed to schools. “Although we have 140,000 open positions for teachers, there are 320,000 of them who are waiting to be appointed. The number increases incrementally every year.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish Land Forces Gen. Hulusi Akar also released statements to celebrate Teachers’ Day. Quoting Ataturk, Akar said, “No matter how many great victories a nation achieves on the battlefield, those victories can only produce lasting results with the help of an army of wisdom.”


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