Monday, April 1, 2013

The village school.

I love my children's school. It is a local, government (i.e. free,) village school. Last year there was a big upheaval in how the education system is structured in Turkey - there were a lot of pros and cons and a lot of debate (you can read about some of that here if you are interested,) but unsurprisingly enough (so far as I can see public opinion never does more than soften the blow of the inevitable here ) it happened and everyone is managing just fine. For us it meant that our current school changed from providing eight years of continuous education, to four. The middle school the boys would have then attended was one we would have liked to avoid. This certainly wasn't the end of the world but it gave us the push we needed to make the decision to change schools. Not only did we change schools, but we bought a house in the same area as the new school - when I look back at the decision making process it has all become a bit chicken-and-eggish in my mind, did we choose the house because of the school, or the school because of the house, I'm not sure but either way it has worked out very well.

When we lived in Ankara there was no way on earth my husband would have let the boys go to a government school. The class sizes were massive (up to sixty kids,) and the children who went were the ones who couldn't afford to go to private school. I have no problem with people being poor - but we found that the other children refused to accept my oldest, his foreignness was just wrong to them. Anyway, happily we moved to Fethiye. Our oldest was due to start school that September so we started looking. First stop was the local private school in Çaliş. I was unimpressed. Not that the school seemed bad, but the days were long 8.30 to 4.30 which seemed unreasonable like a full time job to me and not what I wanted my hen six year old to do. The class sizes were ok at a maximum of twenty two, but it just wasn't special enough for its very high price tag. I have always been opposed to paying for primary education - why should I pay for my kid to finger paint? I wanted to look at some government schools.

My husband hated the idea, but like me he is fairly thrifty and paying the equivalent of two houses over the next eight years appealed to him as little as it appealed to me. We asked around and were told again and again Yunus Nadi, Yunus Nadi, everyone wants to get there kid in there... So we went to see it and we loved it. It has the most beautiful location - the playground literally ends with the sea, the outside walls are covered in child drawn paintings, and child-made tiles. It ticked a lot of boxes. It was a little tricky to get in as we were not in the catchment zone, but my husband is very used to getting his own way and managed to circumvent things so our son could be enrolled (in fact a couple of months later we moved into the catchment zone so this was no longer an issue.)

It didn't quite live up to it's glowing reports. The teachers seemed to believe that the children needed three hours of homework every night. Three hours! That's a lot of homework. When there is that much work to do, quality goes out the window and it is just about finishing. I asked around, worried that it was just us struggling as my son was stronger in English than Turkish, but everyone was telling the same story. The other main disappointment was the lack of community. Almost every child at the school came from somewhere else and they all came on the bus. I'd hoped by moving close to the school that I'd get to know the other parents, but I didn't. Because they didn't come to the school. Ever. Unless the teacher had demanded a parent teacher conference they weren't there. The children who didn't come on the bus walked home alone - I was the crazy Brit walking my six year old home, because I didn't trust him to go alone.

We left on a good note, they put on a fabulous (though expensive) school show. The kind of thing that any non-family member would be bored by, but made me burst with pride at every turn. But ultimately there was nothing I would miss when we moved away.


It's funny how I can not realise how much I dislike a place until I have left it. We lived in Ankara for six years. Six year where I felt supremely indifferent about my life. I neither loved nor hated the place, it was simply somewhere to be to allow the children a chance to learn Turkish before we moved somewhere (anywhere) else. When we moved to Fethiye I fell in love - with the sea, with the vibrant community, with the relaxed and accepting way of life. It was months before I stopped having nightmares about going back to Ankara. When my oldest left his first school, I was again filled with indifference. I was proud of all that he had achieved - making friends, learning to write, learning to read in Turkish, but I was not sad to be leaving. In the end the misery of trying to coerce a six year old to sit still and do homework for three hours after a day at school, and the somewhat standoffish nature of the other parents had outweighed the schools other good points.


The new school is just lovely. It is very much a village school.  My youngest is in the anaokul (kindergarten) and in the six months he has been attending he hasn't once said he doesn't want to go - when he walks into the classroom he is swamped by other kids wanting his attention. It is a pleasure to me to see him in the playground hustling the other kids into playing different ball games with him - his speech development has been very slow and he still can't pronounce some letters yet somehow it doesn't matter. My oldest has a stream of kids knocking on our door to ask "can Hero come out and play...?" he has a vastly reduced amount of homework (only one hour if he sets his mind to it) - he has time to be a kid again.

The really draw to the school though is how unspoilt the people are. We are ever so slightly outside the tourist zone of the main town. The people here still farm their small holdings - and rely on their produce. I was waiting in the playground the other day when a kid turned up with five litres of milk in an old plastic water bottle, he delivered it to another mother - fresh from their cow that morning. In fact I think the village has a higher population of chickens than people. And yet almost all of them seem to have a family member or two married to someone foreign - they have welcomed me. I love walking through the village and having people smile and wave at me.

Note. On Friday my oldest came home and told me he'd been punched, he didn't seem in the least bothered by this, apparently he was protecting one of his friends. I don't really have anything to say about this, so far as I can say it was more just a case of kids fighting rather than bullying, but I thought I would mention it after my rave review of the school just to temper it a little. Nothing ever fits neatly in a box, however much I want it to!

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