ANKARA/İSTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

The economic and social plight of Turkey's eastern provinces manifested itself once again in the results of the country's latest high school entrance exam, with students from less fortunate backgrounds crowding the lowest ranks.
Within a system that gets more competitive each year, the High School Entrance Exam, or OKS, is increasingly burdensome for students and parents to take on, faced with mounting pressure to take private courses given the deficient educational infrastructure.
Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik said Friday he was happy with the fact that among 900,000 participants, the 97 candidates who shared first rank �were from all over the country, whereas they were concentrated in a few provinces before.� The more alarming side of the results, however, was that the lowest ranking cities, among them impoverished Hakkari, Ağrı, Van and Kars, were all in eastern Turkey.
A few stories of success came from unlikely places, including Pınar Aydın from a rural part of the western province of Bursa. Aydın was among the top ranking students and is the daughter of farmers who managed to find a partial scholarship for her to attend a private course.
Likewise, Özgür Karabayır, the son of a metalworker from Adıyaman, and Hacer Dinler from Bingöl also shared first rank.
The path followed by the southern Burdur province is an example of why social, economic and even administrative backgrounds � all generally poor in eastern Anatolia -- are vital for success. Burdur Governor İbrahim Özçiman said the cooperation of parents, private courses and the governor's office is essential to Burdur's glittering rise.
But most of the time there is a clear connection between poor conditions and poor results.
The national education director in Van, one of the cities with the worst scores, Yahya Yıldız, told the Turkish Daily News that an elementary grade student experiences eight to 10 different teachers during his or her education. �Teachers leave Van as soon as their term is finished,� he said. Economic misery only adds to the students' misfortune, as they cannot afford private courses. Providing children with decent training facilities is also a problem that has been addressed only recently. �Years ago 60 students shared the same classroom, but recently the number was reduced to 45,� Yıldız said.
İsmail Ata from the Education Personnel Union, or EĞİTİM-SEN, in Hakkari echoed the assertion that teachers do not stay long in the province and noted that the results are hardly a surprise for Hakkari. �Housing is a serious problem. This is one of the most backward cities in terms of social activities, too,� Ata said. �Every year Hakkari is the last city and comes to the agenda only because of the exams and then it is forgotten,� he added.
But Ata argues that what is even more grave is students' lack of motivation. Many students in Van prefer getting a low score and staying in the province rather than studying and going elsewhere. �There are free courses for high school candidates but they stay empty. In Istanbul parents want their children to attend the best schools. Here, people are content with the schools available to them,� Ata said.

Turkey fails international tests
Some regions in Turkey's eastern region might struggle with financial and social abandonment, but students from every part of society are also beset with a deficient education system that many hope will improve with a new curriculum. Tens of thousands of elementary school graduates were dismayed by the results of the OKS, another slap in the face of authorities in the Turkish education system. More than 30,000 students scored points �not worth calculating,� according to Çelik.
Associate professor Ömer Kutlu of Ankara University's education faculty said poor results stem from a lack of capacity to understand what is heard or read on the part of many students. �Turkey scores very low in international studies on literary effectiveness,� he said and added that the system pushes students toward greater competition in test taking skills. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2006 report revealed that 40 percent of Turkish 15-year-old students scored one on a scale of six on tests that measure text comprehension skills.
�The problem lies with the teachers, who sometimes lack enough skills,� Kutlu said and added that the whole system is oriented toward making children able to solve tests, not preparing them for life.