17 SES 02, Progressive Education
“Leading education: The distinct contributions of educational research and researchers”, this theme brings to mind those who have made contributions to education in such a way that it has shaped how we still continue to approach education. One such contributor is John Dewey. Topics that are occupying the conversation in the field of education recently both in Turkey and internationally like constructivist, learner-centered approach and democracy education are all constructs that have their roots in Dewey’s “learning-by-doing” approach to education and his emphasis on raising students to become self-governing, self-sufficient citizens who show initiative, and independence of judgment. Dewey’s ideas as well as his visit to Turkey was influential in shaping of the Turkish education system after the establishment of the Turkish Republic. Dewey’s learner-centered approach to education meshed well with the Turkish government’s aim to build a democratic nation.
The establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 led to radical political and social changes. The Islamic theocracy was replaced by a secular national republic with an elected national assembly, an industrialized and planned economy, a state system of secular schools, mobilization of manpower, participation of all the members of the state in politics, emphasis on knowledge and scientific thinking (Kazamias, 1966). But there were major challenges to achieving this goal. The country was struggling with poverty and lacked a centralized education system to channel educational policies. 80% of the population was living in the villages at the time. Only 5000 of 35,000 villages had a school (Seren, 2008). The rural population was very scattered and there was scarcity of teachers (Arayici, 1987). By 1927, 89% out of a total population of 13.5 million were illiterate with minimal attendance. This highlighted the importance of solving the educational problems both in the cities and in villages. So the question was what kind of an education system would address these issues.
John Dewey, among other international scholars, was invited to examine the existing situation and provide a report of what needed to be done (Ata, 2000; Celenk, 2009; Gunduz 2012). The government felt that the educational system must be reformed to transform the society into a modern democratic one, so they needed the advice of Dewey who believed that objective of education was to shape social order by using schools (Ata, 2000). In his report, Dewey provided extensive recommendations to ameliorate the overall state of teaching staff and to introduce innovative methods for teacher education noting that the greatest problem in the Turkish education system was the low quality teacher education, their inferior status (Dewey, 1960) and the fact that the number of teachers in the system only made up 1/4th of the needed teaching staff (Altunya, 2010) causing Dewey to put the highest emphasis on teachers and teacher education. According to Dewey teacher education had to be improved by exposing the teachers to modern and progressive pedagogical ideas such as a learner-centered approach to education. For the most part, the village institutes are seen as a model where many of Dewey’s ideas about how we should be training teachers and how we should be educating children particularly in rural areas are realized (Ata, 2000; Celik, 2014; Simsek & Yildirim, 2004; Uygun, 2008). Since the Village institutes were closed down in 1954 however, most attempts to provide a learner-centered education haven’t been successful, although traces of Dewey’s ideas have always been present. In this exploration we track how influential Dewey’s original report on the Turkish education system has been on the reforms made in the teacher education system in Turkey to demonstrate Turkey’s journey toward learner-centered education.
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