A campaign to end illiteracy in Turkey has made strides over two years by reaching 910,000 people in the country's 81 provinces. The campaign endorsed by the Turkish Presidency, particularly by first lady Emine Erdoğan who has said it was "her dream" to make every woman literate in Turkey, mobilized the Ministry of Education and received overwhelming demand from illiterate members of the public.
Through public schools and lifelong learning centers, people from all walks of life and of all ages have learned to read and write. Some 94,000 courses were opened for literacy and most applicants were women and those above the age of 65. It facilitated a 4% drop in the number of illiterate citizens in one year. The highest demand was in eastern and southeastern regions, where 90% percent of illiterate women in those regions learned reading and writing in 15 provinces. Some 225,000 people living in those regions are now literate thanks to the campaign, and 186,000 among them were women.
The average education level is higher than ever in Turkey, but there are more than 2 million illiterate people, according to unofficial figures. Although access to education has increased, girls, particularly in rural areas where every family member works to earn a living for the family at an early age, were cut off from education by their parents. Coupled with an ultraconservative patriarchal mindset disapproving of education for girls, girls were convinced or forced to drop out of school after completing mandatory primary school.
In recent years, Turkey stepped up measures against families forcing their children out of school, first by introducing a mandatory 12-year education and by conducting more inspections of households with children of school age.
Emine Şahin, 32, is among those who benefited from literacy classes. Hearing-impaired Şahin, who lives in the central province of Sivas, could not find a proper school for the hearing-impaired. Financial woes hindered her struggle to learn reading and writing, growing up in a poor family and later having to give her children away to social services for their care. She finally signed up for literacy classes last year after learning about the campaign and soon completed the course. Being literate, she managed to find a job thanks to a state-run employment agency and now looks forward to earning enough to care for her children.
Fatma Akbaba, 41, is the eldest of eight siblings. Akbaba, who lives in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, had to care both for her siblings and her ailing parents for years and was forced to drop out of school.
"It was the only wish I had, to attend a school," she said. "I got married and had children, but I couldn't write even one word. I remember times I curiously looked at my children's storybooks."
Akbaba decided to give the literacy classes a shot when she heard about the campaign.
"I feel like I was born again. It is a dream come true. This is something that enlightened my world. Mrs. Erdoğan guided illiterate women of this country to a new world," she added.
Akbaba now describes herself as a "bookworm" and indulged in a reading marathon of Turkish and foreign literature classics. Nowadays, she is occupied with completing the novel "Crime and Punishment."