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#UDHR70 - “Teachers must feel safe for educating free generations”, by Özgür Bozdogan

After the failed coup attempt on 15th of July, 2016, in Turkey, a state of emergency was declared on the 20th of July. The state of emergency was used to attack all opposition groups. This power grab was used to obtain further power as the Government issued decrees which enabled it to bypass all the parliamentary processes. Because of the decree laws, a hundred thousand public officials woke up one morning unemployed. This change in their lives makes them all “civilly dead”. In such a period, the education and science workers, like all other public officials, have carried out their duties under the threat of the state of emergency and the rule by decree legal regime. Even though the state of emergency was removed, the threat of dismissal remains.

The Government restricts the rights of workers who are not yet dismissed. It is trying to make teachers “government officials” by using “Contract Employment”, that is, precarious employment. Teachers who are expected to demonstrate loyalty and obedience to political power, are subjected to an oral exam system in recruitment which is a part of a policy of creating teachers who will serve in accordance with the political targets of the Government.

Teachers are forced to act according to the desires of political powers rather than the necessities and priorities of their jobs. Those who try to perform their duties for the right to quality education of their students or for a free, democratic and scientific education system are threatened with dismissals.

As Eğitim Sen have affirmed and re-re-affirmed, being forced to work by using insecure employment as a threat means, in effect  being forced to act for the benefit of the political power not for our students. Fear of being dismissed at any time results in working under the threat of performance audits- causing erosion in the quality of the profession.

Practices such as the introduction of contract teaching via the Decree Laws ; changes in Law no. 657on public employees, the performance control and the punishment of all those who are not acceptable for the political powers, prevent education workers from looking at the future with confidence. Teachers have to go on their lives every day with the fear of losing their jobs. Teachers are obliged to deal with those problems instead of focusing on their professions.

For example, “The National Teacher Strategy Document” which was prepared by the Ministry of National Education for the period 2017-2023 clearly reveals the direction in which we are going. When we take a closer look at the strategy, it is expected to bring performance auditing for all teachers by the end of 2018. All teachers will have to take a test every four years aiming to launch a new rotation system which means exile. If a teacher is not able to get the necessary marks from a various group of assessments then that teacher’s workplace will be changed. The new system is bringing the teaching profession back into a hierarchical structure called “career steps”.

In addition, the most important aspect of this strategy is to make the practice of contract teaching permanent. This form of employment, which was applied between 2007 and 2011 and caused a significant deterioration of the quality of education and the teaching environment is now being transformed into a basic form of employment. The fact that many years ago the practice of contract teachers created a status difference between education workers and thus led to the loss of economic and social rights, and the fact that contract teaching has been re-enacted and would be now a permanent form of employment, clearly show the main aim  of the Ministry of National Education. The aim is to raise new generations for a “new Turkey and new social structures” by teachers who do not feel safe and free themselves.

In brief, the pressure used against the education and science workers to become government officials concerns the whole society. It is impossible for a teacher to teach students free and critical thinking unless he/she resists these unlawful and political instructions. If a teacher does not introduce students to universal values and makes them aware of their creativity and potential, that means that the only tasks carried out are the duties of “government officials”.

Finally, I want to underline that the future of a society whose teachers are intended to be “government officials” is limited to the horizon of the party in power. However, the main purpose of education should be to liberate students and to give them confidence and encouragement as well as creating a safe learning environment for them. Students have the right to improve their skills via education and this needs independence from the obstacles and limitations occur because of the political and social conditions. Today, supporting our teachers' voice and their demands means defending our students’ right to quality education.

An education system in which teachers feel confident, professional autonomy is recognized, job security is ensured, and the improved economic and social status of the teachers are some of the basic conditions for ensuring the right to quality education of our students.

Therefore, we highlight the motto “a teacher changes the world”. Eğitim Sen, in a call on teachers on the first day of the new academic year, have stated that we will not be pessimistic. On the contrary, we will produce solutions, together, for our problems, and we will do our best to make this year a year for teachers (!). We know that we can change the world. We will keep our promise! Because we believe we can succeed together.

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10 December 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration remains a relevant inspiration for educators and trade unionists worldwide, as it guarantees the right to form unions, freedom of expression and the right of all to quality education. Human rights requires an informed and continued demand by people for their protection. For this special occasion, Education International is releasing a series of blogs bringing voices and thoughts of unionists reflecting on struggles and accomplishments in this domain. The blogs reflect the continued commitment of education unionists, in every part of the world, in every community, to promote, defend and advance human rights and freedoms for the benefit of all.


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Özgür Bozdogan

Özgür Bozdogan is the Secretary for Education and Higher Education in the Turkish trade union, E?itim Sen. He has been president of the union’s Ankara Branch during three terms (2002-2005, 2005-2008 and 2014-2017). Between 2011 and 2014, he was a member of the KESK General Assembly. He graduated from Hacettepe University, Faculty of Education, Department of English Language, in 1991 and then from Gazi University Institute of Educational Sciences, Department of English Language Teaching.

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