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Does “many” melt into “nothing”?
The construction frenzy might enable high growth rates over a certain timeframe. But this performance will in no way be sustainable.
Is it possible to close the income gap with rich countries by turning the entire country in a construction site? If it were, a lot of countries would have made it to the league of rich countries by focusing solely on infrastructure. But there are only a few countries in the league. True, it took quite long to make it to there, but their success was built not on infrastructure investments alone. Of course it is important to build highways, rapid train lines, bridges, and dams. These are required to attain rapid growth and close up the income gap with rich countries. Unfortunately, as studies suggest, they are not sufficient alone to make to the group of high-income countries.
In Turkey, there is a two-stage university entrance process. The first stage is the Higher Education Examination. Students who succeed in this first exam qualify for the second one, the Undergraduate Placement Examination (LYS). I would like to give some figures on this year’s LYS results. Here are averages of correct answers in proportion to total number of questions for some subjects: the lowest success rate is in Geometry with 15 percent and the highest is in Turkish Language and Literature with 42 percent. The rate is 26 percent for Mathematics, 24 percent for Physics and 37 percent for Chemistry.
This unfavorable picture is not incidental. The results were more or less the same in previous years. Evidently the higher education placement exam is not the only criterion of the quality of education in Turkey. But it clearly is one of the key ones. What is more, other criteria do not demonstrate a bright picture, either. Take the results of the PISA tests by the OECD, for instance. There are other examples, also. But there is no need to say more.
The construction frenzy might enable high growth rates over a certain timeframe. But this performance will in no way be sustainable. Studies draw attention to two common and interrelated features of countries which sustained high growth rates over a long period of time. First is the high quality of education and high share of the well-educated in the population. Second is the considerably high technology content of exports. They export high-technology as well as low- and medium-technology goods like cement, cotton shirt, iron-steel and automobiles. True, having a young population and raising investments are critical, but not sufficient for sustainable rapid growth.
Turkey’s education system is meager. Primary and secondary school curricula are quite intense but do not deliver successful results. “Many” somehow melts into “nothing”. Aren’t you bothered by people, who are well educated but not proficient in Turkish? Might it be a better option to allow students specialize on a few subjects than try to teach them a bit of many? Like, why don’t we teach them to be curious so that they can improve themselves using communication technologies? Would lowering the number of subjects taught at schools be a temporary solution for the teacher gap? Or, how will we decide which students must study biology and geography instead of, say, Turkish language, foreign languages and mathematics? How to decide the courses?
All of these are tough questions. How about we promote sports and people who can work and come up with resolutions on the issues related to sports instead of promoting the use of doping? Or how about we attend ribbon-cutting ceremonies for infrastructure projects in the daytime and resolution conferences in the evenings and listen to experts every now and then?
This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 20.07.2013