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The Observer 11/17/14

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Former La Grande city councilor and Eastern Oregon University professor Doyle Slater, accompanied by his wife, Connie, are on a teaching stint in Turkey. Doyle is teaching at Cag University about 20 miles from Mersin, near Tarsus, Turkey. His service is supported by an International Rotary Foundation Grant for University Teachers. He promised to send occasional dispatches to The Observer. Here is the fifth one.

MERSIN, Turkey — I just read with interest that Mavi jeans, a product of Turkey, has opened its first retail outlet in the U.S. in March.

A symbol of Turkish determination, the denims overtook the sale of Levi brands in 1996, and are rapidly becoming the most sought-after jeans in the world. They are manufactured in the village of Cerkezkoy, 120 kilometers from Istanbul.

The owners have capitalized on competitive Turkish labor and quality Turkish cotton, and pitched their products to those under age 25 in North America. When sales skyrocketed in the West in the past seven years, Turkish youth under 25, who comprise 50 percent of the nation's population of 70 million, made Mavi jeans the center of their wardrobes, and the popularity has spread throughout Europe and the Middle East.

This success story is symbolic of the country's determination to gain recognition for their economic, political and cultural initiatives.

We are now immersed in our assignments as teachers at Cag University. We have begun to understand more about the Turkish educational system, and have become a part of the lives of our university students. Each morning we board a faculty bus and begin our 1.5 hour journey to the campus, 50 kilometers (30 miles) away. Cag is a private university with 1,000 students.

Private universities are funded primarily by student tuition, so these students come from homes with higher than average incomes.

And like many in America, they do not yet realize the value and importance of their education and the financial costs. The university sorely hurts for library and material resources including adequate computer resources.

Turkey has made strides in developing opportunities in higher education but has yet to meet the educational demands of a bulging young population, and has many problems to resolve to be accepted eventually into the European Union, and to be recognized for educational quality by the West.

At the nearby campus of Mersin University, only 10 years old and with an enrollment of about 10,000 students, we observed at least five new buildings under construction on a view site that will eventually accommodate dozens of other buildings, including a medical training facility. Some friends from the medical school are eager to move to their new facility within the next five years.

It is expected that about 1.5 million graduating secondary students will take examinations this spring for admission to universities. Only about 200,000 will be admitted, and some of the rest will retake examinations trying for eventual admission. This has prompted the emergence of many test-preparation academies on Saturday, to assist students in deepening their knowledge-base and their test skills.

Those who qualify by high scores on their content knowledge tests will be selected by the reputable state universities. Their tuition is largely paid by the government, with little personal financial cost. With lesser scores, students may be admitted to private universities and must bear the tuition cost, but the majority who remain seem to be without access to higher education, certainly with a huge, eventual loss to the nation.

That is one reason it is so sad to see students who take their education lightly. We are told the government is working on the problem, but there seems to be a very unwieldy education bureaucracy, stifled by years of tradition, not all of which is good.

We have had a glimpse of the elementary and secondary schools, but there is still so much we do not understand about the system and educational practices. We are told it is highly centralized, and the curriculum and requirements are determined by the ministry in Ankara. We have noticed both at the university and primary and secondary schools, a serious lack of printed materials and resources for teachers.

The classrooms are bland compared to La Grande schools. The curriculum is basic, prescribed, and heavily oriented toward providing information for eventual tests. Students in the eighth forum or grade are tested on subject knowledge and can then enroll in specialty schools. That adds a lot of pressure to determine at an early age expected life careers.

There are still many youth in villages who are left out of the schooling experience. We see many working in the fields with families, but there seems to be a strong effort to include all children in schools.

Nearly all students take English, often beginning in early primary grades. It was delightful to observe recently a third forum classroom of students reading the scripted news in English.

In another class of 12-year-olds, with lessons all in English, students were challenged not only to read and speak and write but to describe the meanings of sentences and words with synonyms. Some schools, including our university, proudly offer many subjects and classes taught totally in English, as well as the mother tongue.

Wherever we go, students want to practice their English and invite us to speak so they can hear the American version as well as the British, more commonly used in the classrooms.

It is delightful to spend time with secondary and primary students. Uniforms are required with some modifications in color and style allowed by schools. The boys wear dark pants with white shirts and ties.

Girls of all ages wear white blouses with neckties, jumpers, pleated gray skirts and long stockings. It is a common practice for girls and boys to wear shoes with high tops, often hiking boots. Athletic shoes like Nikes are rare except on the soccer field. I am told it is a style thing, but it is surely practical in cold and rainy weather where lots of walking is required.

The weather has been quite cold so we have been unable to travel, confined to walks through the city and along the beach. The Mediterranean is a beautiful sea, and it is delightful, weather permitting, to wander along the shore, and to greet the weekend strollers. The people are always great to observe.

As we walk along the seaside paths, we are warmly greeted by others with the greeting of "Merhaba" (hello) or "Ili Gnler" (good afternoon).

It is not uncommon to see a parent and child walking together, but more common to see women and men gathering in separate locations. Older women, many with scarf-covered heads, respectful of their religion, gather to visit, and to take care of

grand-babies. Older men often collect to play parcheesi or other board games that we do not understand.

A common sight on some side streets and in the parks is a parcheesi club, where men gather to play, visit and drink tea. Drinking alcohol is forbidden by the Koran, so we see few bars, though they seem to be increasing as Western influence continues to grow.

As we watch games in the park or along the streets, we are always greeted and invited to participate or watch. We need to learn parcheesi.


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