The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed many industries, but one of its biggest effects was the effect it had on education. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the pandemic has affected more than 1.5 billion students due to school or university shut-downs. In Turkey, schools were shut down for weeks at a time due to the restrictive quarantines enforced throughout the country. Thus, Turkey had to opt for a new education system and created the Education Information Network (EBA).
EBA is a system created for students to get online education from their households. Since Turkey was very strict on quarantine rules, people aged under 20 weren’t allowed to leave the house for weeks during multiple periods. Unfortunately, the education ministry didn’t properly deal with a major problem: lack of Internet access and equipment. Even though most of Turkey’s population lives in cities like Istanbul where it is not that hard to obtain access to the Internet, many households did not have laptops and computers. On top of that numerous households did not even have access to WiFi.
Furthermore, this lack of accessible technology resulted in no live classes. Most of the classes were done through videos, causing there to be no attendance or grades whatsoever for the whole semester. This was especially harmful for the sophomores, juniors, and seniors because they needed to get ready for the University exam that can only be taken once a year and is the only deciding factor for which university students get into. Although some fortunate people could make up for the setback by attending online “cram schools,” the majority were not able to do so because of the large strain these cram schools put on families’ financial situation.
During the summer of 2020, I tutored English to two underprivileged high school students in Adana, Turkey. I conducted these sessions over Zoom. One of the students had a very hard time connecting to class because it was difficult for him to find a neighbor with a connection and device that he could use. I had to adapt to this by keeping my schedule very flexible but many other students just like him had the same problems.
For instance, before the pandemic started I worked with a few NGOs and one of them was TOCEV Foundation for Children Eager for Education, where I taught Mathematics and English. They had to shut down operations abruptly because they didn’t know how to keep moving on with all the problems of opening up. The health of the students was the first priority but outside of the NGO, they were not getting the education they deserved. Since their funding and resources were already limited, it took them a while to reconfigure their programs and start helping students who didn’t have access to equitable education online.
Although NGOs concentrate on helping students with content to improve their learning, one very important step before this improvement in learning can happen is having access to the internet and access to equipment. When face-to-face education during the pandemic was impossible, we saw this as a huge and direct barrier to learning. Turkey has always had a major problem with brain drain because of the lack of education it gives compared to other countries and NGOs are just a small help in patching up the leaks. These students are the future of Turkey and EBA is only a step towards better equitable education during COVID.