3. Background on Education Policies During the COVID-19 School Closures in Turkey
During the COVID-19 pandemic, several policies and programmes have been implemented by the central government to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on education outcomes of children and these efforts are supported by the international and national NGOs through complementary activities. This section documents the educational policy responses in Turkey and how the non-governmental and local organisations worked in collaboration to meet the needs of children and families across the country.
Central government responses to the pandemic
Due to full or partial school closures, The Ministry of National Education adopted a distance-learning strategy early on and used a hybrid approach to remote learning by setting up an educational TV channel and moving classes to an online education platform. On 23rd March 2020, the Government launched EBA TV, an educational TV channel to support students' access to education during the pandemic. EBA TV was an extension to the existing online education platform EBA (Eğitim Bilişim Ağı) and aimed at children from disadvantaged backgrounds with no access to digital devices. EBA TV was made free and available for 24 hours through a Turkish TV satellite or via the internet. Materials and resources provided on EBA TV were produced for students at all levels of K-12. The classes were specified for different school years and curriculum subjects, and the videos were offered in accessible forms for students with visual disabilities.EBA TV continued to broadcast classes for primary, secondary, and high school students via 3 separate channels. The broadcasted content was repeated 1 or 2 times throughout the day. In collaboration with academics, a national psychosocial support team was also set up to improve the channel content with videos on well-being, mental health, as well as social distancing measures and safety during the pandemic. Supplementary to EBA TV, schools and teachers also moved their classes online and taught synchronously on platforms endorsed by the Ministry of National Education during the transition period to EBA.
The Ministry of National Education implemented a project to improve the infrastructure of EBA, established digital support hubs to facilitate access to the platform, and provided internet access and digital device support for students in need. In collaboration with the World Bank, the Turkish Government started implementing the Safe Schooling and Distance Education Project in June 2020 with a budget of 143.8 million Euro to scale up the online platform, support education access, and mitigate educational inequalities due to lack of digital resources. As part of the project, EBA’s capacity has been increased to support 300.000 concurrent users in June 2020 to 865.000 users in March 2021. Also, the capacity of the IT platform has been increased from 25.000 simultaneous online classrooms to 255.000 online classrooms during the same time period. Till the end of 2023, the project aims to expand the capacity of the platform to 5.000.000 concurrent users and 100.000 online classes. To increase the number of students accessing the platform, the Government also established EBA Support Hubs to facilitate children's use of the platform. The support hubs were spaces with computers and internet connection established in schools or other institutions for those children who do not have computers or internet access at home. Support hubs can be used by children after filling an application form and submitting it to the school. By September 2020, there were 4,080 support hubs available across the country; by September 2021, this number was raised to 15,263. Mobile support hubs were also established to support students' access to EBA in rural areas. The number of mobile support hubs decreased to 95 in September 2021, down from 167 in January 2021, due to the start of face-to-face education. To overcome access issues due to the internet, the Ministry of National Education provided free internet access up to 8GB in collaboration with the telecom companies in Turkey. Additionally, the MoNE provided a 25GB internet access package along with a tablet device to a total of 664,157 children, selected based on criteria such as income status, number of siblings continuing education, and special education need. Improving the infrastructure and accessibility of the platform is also reflected in the number of students using EBA. By the end of March 2021, 66% of students could access EBA, down from 26% in June 2020.
To prevent unfair student placement, the Ministry of National Education made changes to the placement examination schedules and content during the pandemic. The high school placement exam in 2020 was revised to exclude the curriculum content taught during the pandemic, and the exam date was postponed for 13 days. In 2021, however, no changes were applied to this exam. Similarly, the student placement exam for higher education was initially postponed from 20th and 21st June to 25th and 26th July, which was then changed to 26th and 27th June following a final decision. To support student preparation to placement exams, learning materials and mock exams were made available on EBA.
The Government implemented a number of measures to mitigate learning losses due to the pandemic. To compensate for the learning losses of children during the pandemic, the Ministry of National Education has made changes to the education system and pledged for future programs to support students. In this cause, to improve student learning and support teaching effectiveness, the Ministry of National Education shared information about a project titled the National Support Programme (Ulusal Destekleme Programı) in February 2021. It was subsequently further announced that the UDEP program would last for 1.5 years. As the first part of the UDEP programme, schools in 1001 villages that had the most difficulty in reaching EBA were identified, and an emergency plan was designed for them. As the second phase, the Ministry of National Education implemented a project called 'Telafide Ben de Varım' during the summer of 2021 that aimed to support children's educational, psychosocial, and physical development following the pandemic. For this programme, schools remained open from July 5 to August 31, 2021, providing classes and activities for children across the country. 8 million students applied to participate in these courses. However, there have been no further announcements about the reach of the UDEP programme during its implementation or on any plans for further implementation of the programme.
More recently, in October 2021, the Ministry of National Education conducted special exams to understand and measure the learning losses of children in the past 1.5 years for grades 7 through to 11. These exams covered various topics and were conducted with the aim of revising and improving the implemented policies and programmes designed to mitigate the measured learning losses. The Ministry of National Education also continues to provide Support Courses (Destekleme ve Yetiştirme Kursları) to children in 6th-12th grades as well as to those who have already graduated and are preparing for central exams. These support courses were provided in various topics as an alternative to private tutorship, but it should be noted that these courses had also already was being provided for these grades before the pandemic.
Responses from international and national non-governmental organisations
In collaboration with the Ministry of National Education, organisations including UNICEF Turkey implemented projects to provide health and safety guidelines, psychosocial support kits, technological support, and extra classes for children and families in Turkey. NGOs in Turkey worked in collaboration to support families during the pandemic in various areas of need. Support programmes responded to issues around health and safety, financial difficulties, access to education, and psychosocial needs of parents and children. Some programmes specifically aimed to address the needs of the most disadvantaged children, including refugees, children who live in rural areas, and children who come from educationally and financially deprived households. This section demonstrates the areas of intervention with examples from across the country.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, NGOs in Turkey prepared information resources and guiding documents to support the health and safety of parents and children during the pandemic. In collaboration with partner organisations, UNICEF Turkey established a programme to equip families with COVID-19 hygiene kits, which provided sanitation products, including hand sanitisers and PPE equipment for families of 5 (See Figure 3).
Figure 3 UNICEF Turkey established a programme to equip families with Covid-19 hygiene kits
Source: UNICEF Türkiye. [@unicefturk]. (2020, November 23). UNICEF olarak, ulusal ortaklarımızla birlikte ülke çapındaki COVID-19 müdahalesine destek çerçevesinde aile hijyen kitleri dağıtmaya ve en savunmasız mülteci ve Türk ailelerinin ihtiyaçlarına katkıda bulunmaya devam ediyoruz. [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/unicefturk/status/1330900063632175106/
These kits were distributed to families in need by youth workers working for the Ministry of National Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Kilis Municipality, Turkish Red Crescent, and ASAM. The kits reached 297,626 children by the end of 2020 and aimed to target 30,000 households of the most vulnerable families, including Syrian refugees in provinces with the highest infection rates. The kits also included pamphlets providing information on safety measures and sanitation guidelines to safeguard families and reduce infection during the pandemic. The Eğlen, Öğren, Hijyen (Have Fun, Learn, Hygiene) project was another example by TEGV (Türkiye Eğitim Gönüllüleri Vakfı), which provided an online platform educating children on the COVID-19 virus and safety measures, as well as providing information on infectious viruses, bacteria, and microbes, and general guidelines for health and safety. This programme reached 3,105 children in total. To support the safe opening of schools, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF Turkey also launched a 'Back to School' campaign, providing information leaflets on EBA on safety and hygiene practices for parents and children. The leaflets were also made available in Arabic (See Figure 4).
Figure 4 UNICEF Turkey also launched a 'Back to School' campaign, providing information leaflets on EBA on safety and hygiene practices
Source: UNICEF Turkey. (2021). Back to School, Hygiene, Masks, Physical Distancing. Next Step: Education. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey. Accessed from the following link: https://www.unicef.org/turkey/en/media/11411/file and https://www.unicef.org/turkey/media/11421/file
To facilitate children's access to education and improve learning during the pandemic, UNICEF provided educational supplies and learning initiatives. UNICEF Turkey actively collaborated with governmental organisations to support children's educational needs during the pandemic. To mitigate learning losses, the organisation started a project distributing learning kits for those in need. By the end of December 2020, 75,548 educationally at-risk children (60,403 of those are Syrian) received 'Learn at Home Kit' to continue learning at home during the school closures (See Figure 5).
Figure 5 "Learn at Home Kit" were distributed by UNICEF
Source: UNICEF Turkey. (2020). Supporting vulnerable children in Turkey as they adapt to the “new normal”. UNICEF Turkey. Accessed from the following link: https://www.unicef.org/turkey/en/stories/supporting-vulnerable-children-turkey-they-adapt-new-normal
The kits were separately designed for the needs of Turkish and Syrian children and included school supplies, storybooks and education materials, as well as recreational games and activities. In addition to these kits, UNICEF Turkey also played an important role in facilitating children's access to online education. In this cause, the organisation provided EBA support classrooms in the Children and Youth Centres of the Turkish Red Crescent in Antakya and Iskenderun, as well as establishing 170 EBA support centres and 6 Mobile support centres in collaboration with the Ministry of National Education (See Figure 6).
Figure 6 UNICEF established 170 EBA support centres and 6 Mobile support centres in collaboration with the Ministry of National Education
Source: UNICEF Turkey. (2021). Humanitarian Situation Report No. 41. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey. Accessed from the following link: https://www.unicef.org/media/102351/file/Turkey%20Humanitarian%20Situation%20Report%20No.%2041%20(Syria%20Refugees)%201%20Jan%20-%2031%20Mar%202021.pdf
Bağcılar Belediyesi. (2020). Bağcilar’da 7 Noktada Eba Destek Noktasi Açildi. Bağcılar Belediyesi. Accessed from the following link: http://www.bagcilar.bel.tr/icerik/472/19716/bagcilarda-7-noktada-eba-destek-noktasi-acildi.aspx
Similar to the learning kits provided by UNICEF Turkey, ACEV also designed a ‘play box’ for young children to facilitate quality play and home learning during the pandemic. These boxes were delivered to disadvantaged households with young children across the country in collaboration with municipalities (See Figure 7). An ongoing AÇEV programme to support the reading habits of children, ‘Okuyan Bir Gelecek’, was moved to ACEV’s YouTube channel and promoted by videos of celebrities reading children’s books. Many disadvantaged families were also provided with free internet access up to 2GB by AÇEV to benefit from their programmes online.
In addition to these support programmes and resources, educationally at-risk children were offered homework support and Turkish language courses in cooperation with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Turkish Red Crescent, and Kilis Municipality. Customised materials were also produced to support underachieving children in remedial classes and were distributed to schools across the country, targeting 1,743,480 students in the remedial education program. These programs adopted a hybrid approach, where children received classes via phones and in small group sessions. By the end of 2020, 3,261 children (54% girls) had benefited from the language classes, 1,854 of which were out of school. The homework support program also reached 2,361 Syrian and Turkish children, 60% of whom were girls. To support early childhood education during the pandemic, in collaboration with 200 teachers, UNICEF also produced 38 storybooks and set up online support networks for parents of 3- to 7-year-old children. This initiative reached 23,038 Syrian and Turkish children across the country. Similarly, to facilitate refugee children’s access to online education, various non-governmental organisations provided families with free internet access during the pandemic.
Figure 7 ACEV designed a ‘play box’ for young children to facilitate quality play and home learning during the pandemic
Source: Konak Municipality. (2021). Accessed from the following link: https://www.konak.bel.tr/haber/konak-belediyesi-acev-el-ele-2308
Existing programmes targeting refugee families were moved to online platforms. Leading organisations working with refugee families in Turkey continued their projects online during the pandemic. Initially, the programmes focused on supporting the access of refugee families to healthcare and education as well as providing psychosocial support via helplines. SGDD-ASAM, for instance, continued their ‘Okula Kayıt İçin Destek Programı’ (School Enrolment Support Programme) via phone calls to facilitate refugee children’s school enrolment process during the pandemic. To support student access to EBA, SGDD-ASAM also identified at-risk children and reached their families to provide support on how to use the online education platform during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, UNICEF delivered teacher training programs to facilitate online education and led health and safety campaigns to support the safe reopening of schools. To support teachers during the pandemic, teacher training programs focused on the new demands of online teaching and were provided through a collaboration between the Ministry of National Education and UNICEF Turkey. This program reached 196,603 teachers and education administrators and targeted identifying support needs of children and improving the digital skills of teachers. To facilitate the safe reopening of schools, UNICEF also delivered safety campaigns and school staff training, reaching 47,037 school administrators across the country.
UNICEF also continued to work in close collaboration with the Ministry of National Education to prevent child labour and mitigate financial barriers to education. To prevent child labour and school dropouts due to financial constraints, UNICEF Turkey continued to work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Family and Social Services, the Ministry of National Education, and the Turkish Red Crescent to deliver the monetary support programme, Conditional Cash Transfer for Education, for refugee children. As of July 2020, 494,899 children on the beneficiary roster continued to benefit from the programme. A new programme was also launched in a Southeastern city, Şanlıurfa, assisting 472 children of families in seasonal agriculture work to prevent child labour and school dropouts due to the economic implications of the pandemic.
In addition, UNCIEF worked in collaboration to safeguard child welfare and provide resources on family well-being and mental health. UNICEF worked in collaboration with the Ministry of National Education to develop support programs and prepare materials on child welfare during the pandemic. This initiative led to the production of storybooks, brochures, information booklets on mental health and well-being (See Figure 8).
Figure 8 UNICEF worked in collaboration with the Ministry of National Education to develop support programs and prepare materials on child welfare during the pandemic
In addition to these materials, AÇEV prepared a set of guidelines for families, including information on family well-being and relationships. These guidelines focused on protecting the physical health of families, as well as psychosocial well-being. They provided recommendations on a variety of topics, including maintaining positive relationships at home, spending quality time with children, sharing household chores and setting up family routines, using media safely, and protecting child well-being and mental health during the pandemic. ERG also conducted an interview study on children’s experiences at home, allowing for children’s voices to be heard during the pandemic. The findings of this study were disseminated online via a news media channel on YouTube. AÇEV also continued its family support programmes online, and extended its work on fathers during this period. Social media accounts of organisations, including UNICEF Turkey and AÇEV, were used to share information on mental health, family life, parenting and child well-being during the pandemic.
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https://www.meb.gov.tr/destekleme-ve-yetistirme-kurslarindan-7-ve-11-sinif-ogrencileri-de-faydalanabilecek/haber/24221/tr MEB. (2021, November 18). Destekleme Ve Yetiştirme Kurslarinin Kapsami Genişletildi. MEB. Retrieved from: https://www.meb.gov.tr/destekleme-ve-yetistirme-kurslarinin-kapsami-genisletildi/haber/24611/tr  Sayıştay Bakanlığı. (2020,). Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı 2019 yılı Sayıştay denetim raporu. Ankara: Sayıştay Bakanlığı  MEB (2019). Destekleme Ve Yetiştirme Kurslari E-Kilavuzu. Ankara: Turkey  UNICEF Turkey. (2020). Turkey - UNICEF COVID 19 Family Hygiene Kit – 2020. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey. Retrieved from: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/76490  UNICEF Turkey. (2020). COVID-19 Response Monthly Situation Report. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey  UNICEF Turkey. (2020). COVID-19 Response End-year Situation Report 2020. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey  UNICEF Turkey. (2020, June 01). Supporting vulnerable children in Turkey as they adapt to the “new normal”. UNICEF Turkey. Retrieved from: https://www.unicef.org/turkey/en/stories/supporting-vulnerable-children-turkey-they-adapt-new-normal  TEGV. (2021). Türkiye Eğitim Gönüllüleri Vakfı Şubat 2021 - Haziran 2021 Etkinlik Raporu. Istanbul: TEGV  Ibid  UNICEF Turkey. (2021). Back to School, Hygiene, Masks, Physical Distancing. Next Step: Education [Brochure]. UNICEF Turkey. Accessed from the following link: https://www.unicef.org/turkey/en/media/11411/file  UNICEF Turkey. (2021). Back to School, Hygiene, Masks, Physical Distancing. Next Step: Education [Brochure] (Arabic). UNICEF Turkey. Accessed from the following link: https://www.unicef.org/turkey/media/11421/file  Leaflets Syrian and Turkish children  UNICEF Turkey. (2020). COVID-19 Response End-year Situation Report 2020. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey  AÇEV. “Evdeki Oyun Kutum” Yola Çıktı!. Retrieved from: https://www.acev.org/evdeki-oyun-kutum-yola-cikti/  Ibid  UNICEF Turkey. (2020). COVID-19 Response End-year Situation Report 2020. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey  UNICEF Turkey. (2020). COVID-19 Response Monthly Situation Report. September 2020. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey  UNICEF Turkey. (2020). COVID-19 Response End-year Situation Report 2020. Ankara: UNICEF Turkey  Doğanay, C., Koyuncu, İ., A., Kenanoğlu, M., Kadkoy, O., & Güven, S. (2020). Zorunlu Göçmenler için Sosyal Eşitlik: Pandemi Sürecinde Yerel Yönetimlerin ve STK'ların Rolü. Tepav. Anakara: Turkey  Doğanay, C., Koyuncu, İ., A., Kenanoğlu, M., Kadkoy, O., & Güven, S. (2020). Zorunlu Göçmenler için Sosyal Eşitlik: Pandemi Sürecinde Yerel Yönetimlerin ve STK'ların Rolü. Tepav. Anakara: Turkey  ASAM: Okula Kayıt için Destek Programı. Retrived from: https://sgdd.org.tr/projeler/okula-kayit-icin-destek-programi/  Ibid  Ibid  Ibid  AÇEV. (2020). Covid-19 Salgını Döneminde Evde Iyi Olma Hâlini Koruma Rehberi. Istanbul: Turkey  ERG. (2020, 09, 25). Çocuklar Evde Nasılsınız?. ERG Blog. https://www.egitimreformugirisimi.org/cocuklar-evde-nasilsiniz/  Medyascope Plus. (2020, July 4). Gündem Çocuk: Çocuklar evde nasılsınız? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTmsHah4Yrk  AÇEV’s Official Website/What we do/For Mothers and Fathers: https://www.acev.org/ne-yapiyoruz/anne-babalar-icin/  AÇEV’s Official Website/What we do/For Mothers and Fathers/ Father Support Program: https://www.acev.org/en/father-support-program/  UNICEF Turkey’s Official Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/unicefturkiye/ AÇEV’s official YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCknrine7khh3jBWiushNOpw