March 2020 marked the beginning of a new life in Turkey after the COVID-19 pandemic started taking its toll on the country and reshaped the daily lives of millions. For students, it was a sudden pause to classroom education as the country shut down schools and turned to remote lessons on March 16. Awaiting reopening for months, they had to conclude the second semester of the school year on Friday when the government decided to wrap up the school year. Missing the usual hubbub of traditional graduation ceremonies and the delivery of report cards, they had to settle with online report cards, unceremoniously uploaded to their online education apps. High school graduates will be able to receive their diplomas from their schools.
Although vacations for primary, middle and high schools have officially begun, students will not be able to head to vacation resorts this year. Most will be forced to spend the holidays under tight measures against the pandemic. Face masks, made mandatory in more than half of Turkey, challenge holidaymakers, along with the risk of infection from a lack of social distancing, especially on crowded beaches. Children were recently allowed to go out in the company of their parents after months of curfew for people under 18 and senior citizens, but the lingering risk from the coronavirus concerns parents.
The end of the school year also means the beginning of important exams for some students. On Saturday, middle school students were set to sit for a high school admission exam while high school students will take university admission exams next week.
Teachers, meanwhile, who normally spend a portion of their summer break attending teaching courses by the Ministry of National Education, will this year attend online courses later in June. Some 500,000 teachers and school administrators will attend the online courses, the highest number for an occupational development program held online in Turkey.
Schools will be closed until September but they will unofficially open on Aug. 31 with courses that will compensate for classes students missed in the second semester and preparatory classes for first graders. The same courses will start on Aug. 15 in private schools.
Minister of National Education Ziya Selçuk, who traditionally attends report card delivery ceremonies at schools at the end of every school term, congratulated students. “My children, you did a great job. You have been amazingly patient and did not go out for days. You have been incredibly hard-working in studying through TVs and computers. We have seen billions of visits to EBA (Education Information Network). Today is your day. My dear students, you lived through this pandemic with the rest of us. You have been away from your school, your friends, your social life. You stayed at home for health. I am grateful for your support to educators and your endeavor,” he tweeted.
Remote education record
Turkey resorted to EBA, an online education portal previously used in a limited fashion, to continue education uninterrupted after schools were closed. Remote education that started on March 23 was quickly embraced by students and teachers and went on to break records. It became Turkey's 10th most-visited website and the world’s third most-visited education website in a short period. Its mobile app was downloaded more than 17 million times.
Along with computers, the government turned to television for remote education and introduced new TV stations under public broadcaster TRT. TRT EBA aired 2,516 hours of courses. More than 7 million students have actively used EBA so far.
EBA TV channels will resume broadcasts on June 29 with complementary courses that will continue through the summer and help students improve their knowledge. Summer programs will focus on design workshops and English classes as well as literacy classes for first graders.
Turkey has been the second country to launch such a massive drive for remote education after China, the epicenter of COVID-19 pandemic. It enlisted the help of 674 teachers who recorded hours of classes in 10 TRT studios in Istanbul and Ankara. Along with course videos, the EBA system aired videos for arts, sports and other activities, as well as videos to inform parents on how to help their children in the time of the pandemic.
Along with TV and online classes, Turkey also launched a “live classroom” project in which teachers taught classes via videoconferencing apps. More than 5 million classes were taught through live classroom projects.