There are a number of areas that Turkey should address in order to progress in terms of education, with the number one issue would be gender inequality, as its short- and long-term effects on education are quite prevalent. Unfortunately, gender inequality affects lives of women in many regions of the country, and the effects are seen starting at an early age. For example, in international standardized tests, we see a trend in which boys score higher than the girls. Although this might hold true for many nations, for Turkey, the difference between the scores of boys and girls is higher than the average difference, with rates excessing 10%. By the age of 15, the gender gap already exists such that male enrollment in schools is 20% more than the female enrollment.
Relevant to this, overall, more male students are enrolled into universities in Turkey than females. This of course has long-term outcomes, leading to women participating in labor force less than men. The lower participation in labor force is also due to the gender socialization that children are exposed to from an early age in many different settings, starting with the family. Girls who grow up in less patriarchal families have a better chance of getting post primary schooling.
Moreover, imposition of gender roles exists in the school setting as well, starting as early as primary education. Course books prepared by the Ministry most of the time emphasize the roles of women within the family (e.g. mother, grandmother). Even when women are pictured in the workplace, they are most of the time demonstrated with more traditional occupations, such as a teacher or tailor. Men on the other hand, are more likely to be represented outside of a family, and within a larger variety of jobs. In a way, this teaches children about the types of occupations they can or cannot have and thus is problematic.
One of the biggest, and perhaps the most tragic reasons for young girls not completing their education is child marriage. In addition to being a drastic violation of human and children’s rights, this also prevents girls from getting their degrees due to them leaving school early. This is more common in the rural areas of the country, where socioeconomic status is generally lower. When looked at the data, it is possible to see that the age in which a woman had her first marriage is positively correlated with the level of education she completes, meaning that the younger a woman gets married, less educated she is likely to be.
A cause of early marriages is unplanned pregnancies. Early pregnancies not only make it less likely for the young girls to complete their degree, but it also increases health risks. Keeping this in mind, it should not be very surprising that Turkey does not provide sufficient education on sexual health. Although health science classes exist at the high school level, sexual health is rarely a part of it. Some schools do provide sexual education classes once or twice a year – however this is the case for only a handful of schools. Sexual education needs to be implemented as part of the formal curriculum, possibly starting earlier than high school – once the children enter adolescence.
It is important that sexual education is delivered in an age appropriate manner, taking into account the demographics of the specific region as well as sexual identity and orientation of students. In addition, it can possibly become a part of non-formal educational settings, such as women’s associations, or public education centers (which are free of charge for every citizen). Of course, for this implementation to succeed, not only girls but also boys need to be educated and must be made well aware of the importance of concepts such as consent, as well as possible consequences of risky sexual behaviors.
In order to address these issues regarding gender inequality in education, several more areas should be targeted. The government can and should focus on improving, perhaps tracking, the attendance of female students in classrooms, more so in the early years of education. If a well-working system can be established, families would be more cautious on making sure their daughters are going to school. Punishments should be imposed to families who are preventing their children from getting the compulsory education they need. As citizens, NGOs such as the Association for Supporting Contemporary Life, whose aims include supporting the education of girls can be endorsed.
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