UNITE FOR CHILDREN-- UNICEF

Say Yes, Summer 2003: The Big Issue

Dr Hüseyin Çelik, Minister of National Education

Dr Hüseyin Çelik, Minister of National Education: The solution to the problem of girls’ education is a key to the solution of many economic, social and cultural problems that presently affect Turkey.
© Dr Hüseyin Çelik 2003

Associate Professor Hüseyin Çelik was born in the Gürpınar District of Van in 1959. Immediately after graduating from the Faculty of Literature at İstanbul University he became an assistant in Yüzüncü Yıl University. In 1987 he returned to İstanbul University as a faculty member. Between 1988 and 1991 he took his Masters Degree in Turkish Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and wrote his doctoral thesis on ‘Ali Suavi and his Times’. While researching the ‘Young Ottomans Association’ as the first modern political movement in Turkish history, he travelled widely in Europe, visiting Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. In 1992 he took the post of Assistant Professor in Yüzüncü Yıl University, becoming an Associate Professor in 1997.

The general elections of April 18th, 1999 carried Minister Çelik to the Grand National Assembly as a DYP (True Path Party) deputy from Van. On July 3rd, 2001, however, he resigned to join the founders of the AK Party. He was a founding member of the party when they took their seats in parliament. In the general elections of November 3rd , 2002 he was re-elected as the deputy for Van. His first post was as Minister of Culture in the 58th Government established after the elections. Soon thereafter, he was appointed Minister of National Education in the current, 59th Government.

Minister Çelik has published fifteen books on a variety of issues including ideological and political movements, Turkish culture, the political history of Turkey, Turkish literature and other issues of current interest to the country. He is married and has two sons and a daughter. A fluent English speaker, Minister Çelik is an extremely frank person, whose habitual expression is a mixture of determination and affection in equal parts.

We had a warm and lively exchange on the theme of ‘education’ in general and the campaign for girls’ education in particular.

At the outset, Minister Çelik emphasised that education is a basic human need:

Some essentials such as eating, drinking and so forth are common to every living organism. But education is the distinguishing characteristic of a human being. It is a spiritual need, bringing material benefits also. Education is the key to discovering and rationalising the environment in which human beings live.

Minister Çelik sees education as an indivisible whole. Yet he underlined ‘basic education’ for its importance as a building block for our future.

Basic education is the solid foundation of all we will learn afterwards. It is therefore crucial to ensure access to basic education for all. The issue is not that everyone should continue with higher education after completing their basic education. What is important is to impart relevant information and skills that help individuals enjoy a good quality of life. This is not to deny the importance of further education; yet we cannot get a good higher education without first having in a good system of basic education in place.

With his profound understanding of the Turkish character, Minister Çelik is particularly interested in the education of girls. His approach to the issue is candid:

I am against all forms of discrimination, but I also believe that there is need for some positive discrimination favoring girls when the issue is education. According to my figures, 7.5 million people in this country are functionally illiterate and six million of these people are women. So the number of functionally illiterate women is four times that of men! Speaking openly, I think that a problem of this magnitude requires positive discrimination in favor of women.

It is true that the education of girls is one of the priority issues in Turkey. Yet, this problem is not specific to Turkey. Nations who fail to educate their women have no chance in the dizzying race in which the world is presently engaged. In Turkey, interregional disparities in development are reflected in education as in other areas. There are disparities not only between the western and the eastern regions of the country, but also between the centre and periphery of urban settlements. There are many things, however, that can be done to solve the problem. One way is to enhance public awareness and mobilise all sections of society. I think that with the campaign we are about to launch with UNICEF on the 17th of June we’ll be able to address that and achieve a great degree of mobilisation and participation. I also believe that we can strike a spark in the hearts of all by making each citizen a part of the solution, stressing that the real solution requires the participation of all -- not just the State -- by showing that each of us can play a part.

I was born in Van and educated in a regional boarding school. So I know that our people would consider me as ‘one of them’. And I believe that they will stand by me in this campaign and send their daughters to school. The solution to the problem of girls’ education is a key to the solution of many economic, social and cultural problems that presently affect Turkey.

We don’t want to waste half of our human resources for lack of education. In education, we must place due emphasis of ethical aspects and build a system that brings to the fore human nature and face of our children. What would really make a difference would be not simply to accord some rights to women, but to have them ask and struggle for these rights.

Minister Çelik expanded on the launch and future direction of the campaign:

We’ll start with ten provinces where girls’ enrolment rates are very low and then we’ll further expand the program by adding twenty more provinces. By 2005, we will have gone a long way towards eliminating gender differences in school enrolment and attendance rates.

Another question we put to Minister Çelik was about approaches to improving the quality of education. His response was heartening, stressing a holistic approach as the key to eliminating issues of quality:

Quality in education should be seen as five elements that complement each other and form a whole: Good and qualified teachers, schools, education materials, curriculum and the students themselves.

To effect some changes in our system of education, we are at present working on a grading system for teachers. Under this system, teachers will first start their careers as candidate teachers and need to satisfy specific criteria to be full teachers. Other qualifications will be sought for those who want to be schoolmasters. It all depends on the performance of teachers and of course their remuneration will be harmonised with their qualifications and performance. The objective is to adopt a dynamic approach and continuously renew and update teaching practices.

We are very pleased to be working with UNICEF in this campaign for the education of girls. Through our cooperation, we strongly believe that we will succeed in mobilising our children, their families and all other individuals and institutions in the country.

At the end of the day, we should make the message clear everywhere that education is for all. It cannot be a privilege conferred to specific groups. And quality in education is the most important of all.

We sincerely hope that the Minister’s commitment is absorbed by the country as a whole and that girls are no longer deprived of their basic right to an education.

Read about the launch of Haydi Kızlar Okula! the campaign for girls’ education in Van. UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy’s opening speech on the occasion can also be found at the UNICEF Turkey Press Centre

Read about the benefits of Education for Every Child.

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