UNITE FOR CHILDREN-- UNICEF

Press Centre 2004/07/01: Girls’ Education

Siirt has worked a miracle

Zeynep Yanaşmayan for Sabah Newspaper, 1 July, 2004

Birds-eye view of schoolchildren waving from the playground

Photograph © Sabah Newspaper 2004

The education community is abuzz with talk about the province of Siirt: the school attendance rate has jumped from just 4 to 63 percent within a matter of 4 years and contracts for teachers failing to enroll at least 25 new students are being cancelled. About 12,000 children are attending infant classes. Material assistance in the form of financial subsidies and other incentives is offered to school goers -- and 3 million pistachio saplings planted in a joint effort to bolster the local economy are flourishing.

A miracle has indeed been worked in Siirt and the man responsible is Governor Nuri Okutan. Governor Okutan is now reaping the fruits of his painstaking efforts to make Siirt one of the leading provinces of Turkey. Siirt gained an incredible momentum in education after the new Governor took office and the province is now leading all other provinces in pre-school education enrolment. Along with strides forward in education, the pistachio industry will help Siirt open up to the European market. These important projects by Governor Okutan enjoy wide support from the locals. Several projects are being carried out at the same time to enlarge the scope and quality of education. Parents and students are very enthusiastic about the Governor’s initiatives. The project designed to increase enrolment to pre-school education achieved such success that its reputation went far beyond the borders of this province. Siirt is now at top in pre-school education where the national enrolment average is 15 percent. Following the launch of a programme in 2000, the rate of enrolment rose from 4 to 63 percent -- a total of 12,000 children enrolled in pre-school education.

There are 466 teachers catering to the educational needs of these children in a total of 323 infant classes spread over the province center, local administrative districts and outlying rural settlements. Pre-school education is a distinct feature of the project which targets quality improvement in basic education. The idea of giving weight to pre-school education stems from the fact that many formal school beginners have difficulty in adapting to courses in Turkish since their local tongues are different. The school performance of students who try to master Turkish at their formal enrolment in primary education is naturally low so pre-school education is crucial in giving these children an equal chance in formal education.

Material support as well!

Through the projects, which are supported by the Ministry of National Education (MONE), Various methods are employed to encourage students. The Governorate extends financial support to families who send their children to school and offers incentives in the form of gifts to newly enrolled students. Teachers visit homes to convince parents to send their children to schools and the contracts of any teachers who fail to gain at least 25 children for new school enrolment are cancelled. Another interesting project in Siirt is designed to mobilise communities and ensure the further support of muhtars. Muhtars making special efforts to ensure the school enrolment of children and are invited to attend as special guests in the protocol of special days and celebrations.

Haydi Kızlar Okula!

Children reading in a schoolroom

Photograph © Sabah Newspaper 2004

The main focus in the field of education is on low school enrolment rates of girls. In projects launched to improve the social status of women, material assistance to girls enrolled to schools is supplemented by boarding facilities. Five dormitories for girls, each with 100 beds, are currently being constructed with the support of the private sector. As a result of such measures, the rate of enrolment for girls jumped from 57 to 90 percent while the rate for boys reached 99 percent.

Women are not forgotten

The Governorate funds thirteen community centres for women over school age. The centers have no special entry requirements or procedures for registration and attendance in order for participants to be trained in various skills. Courses at the centres include weaving, dyeing, computer skills, sewing, citizenship and basic literacy. About 3,000 women attend and as a result the number of illiterate women in the province centre has dropped from 6,000 to 5,000. Governor Okutan says that his administration’s target is to make Siirt one of the most developed provincial centres in Turkey. Emphasising the fact that keeping up with contemporary civilisation presupposes education in the first place, Governor Okutan pointed out that the Social Solidarity and Assistance Fund (SYDTF) offers material support to the children of poor families. Steps taken by the Governorate to mobilise support from the private in the field of education led to an increase in investments that totaled 15 trillion TL.

Pistachios -- the key to development

Governor Okutan visits a local pistachio plantation

Photograph © Sabah Newspaper 2004

Another step forward by Siirt is in the field of pistachio farming. Governor Okutan points out that their developments in the field of education need to be backed by economic development all round. It was decided that the province is ideally suited to the cultivation of pistachio nuts and the Governorate has so far spent 160 billion for seed procurement and technical support and the Ministry of Agriculture and Village Works (MOA) allocated 300 billion TL to support pistachio farming in the province. About 6 million new pistachio saplings were planted -- one of the largest scale plantation campaigns ever seen in Turkey and there are plans for planting a further 3 million saplings. The trees will be ready for harvest in ten years, providing an estimated 100,000 tons of pistachio. It is expected that per capita income in the province will rise from the present level of US$1,100 to US$4,100. The province of Siirt now has 15 nurseries -- 9 of which are managed by the Governorate -- and local people are rushing to buy pistachio saplings available at a much lower cost than in neighboring provinces. Roughly 1,000 people were trained in the care and cultivation of pistachio saplings within the framework of the plantation project.

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