In a small school in Diyarbakır, for lack of means, computer literacy is taugh on cardboard computers the children have produced themselves. A phony controversy, or a revealing piece of news?

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At Şehit Mehmet Aygün College in Eğil – a township in Diyarbakır, because of lack of material, the teacher in charge of computer literacy, Orkun Şahin, attempts to familiarize the children with the help of computers they have made by recycling discarded wrappers.

Orkun Şahin spoke to the media about his wish for a real computer literacy class: “In order to complete this project, I drew the essential features of a computer on the board and asked the children to make a life-sized one at home as best they could, using recuperated materials. They did so and brought them to class. The aim of this project is to familiarize the children with a computer, as best we can. We have no computer room but I wanted them to simulate the condition, as if they had a real computer and could gain an appreciation of the subject.”

The teacher says that, despite everything, this creative project built a minimal bridge between the children and technology. “At least, they learn how to hold a mouse, how to sit straight in front of the computer.” He insists on the fact the children dream of learning to use real computers and to touch them. “There is an unoccupied room on the lower floor. We could very well set up a computer room there.” He adds he had positive responses following this project.

One of the students, Sevda Aslan, said friends had loved this project. “I was able to imagine how a computer works, which keys serve which function… I see computers on television. But I had never touched one.” Suna Malçok felt the same way. “I have never touched a computer. When I made one at home, it made me feel as if I was touching one. It was pleasant.” Muhammed Malçok shared the same feeling as Suna and added “our teacher is teaching us about computers, without a computer. I thank him very much.”

Two days after the publication of these testimonials in the media, and the reactions that followed, the Education Directorate in Diyarbakır issued a declaration calling on the teaching corps to “request an authorization prior to making any declaration to the media.”

Here is the declaration published by the daily Birgün. Edifying.

“Activities and exemplary practices carried out in our province are shared on social networks from time to time, in order to sensitize and create emulation. Teachers, school principals or local authorities also make declarations to written or audiovisual media on various topics.
However, following declarations done without prior notification to the authorities concerned, and with no prior written request for same, and with the addition of advice and personal opinions, negative results could possibly result.
This is the reason why, I request that teachers and directors of educational establishments in our province strictly request a written authorization prior to making a declaration to the media or sharing information concerning positive or negative events occuring in an educational setting; in order to avoid all kinds of negative fallouts, and show a maximum amount of sensitivity concerning the sharing on personal or institutional accounts on social networks.”

The Birgün shares screen grabs of the declaration received on Whatsapp and signed by the Diyarbakır’s Director of National Education, and adds: “The person in charge of national education in the province of Diyarbakir whom we contacted for more information, declared that State employees must request authorization before expressing themselves in front of the media. After asking us where we obtained the information about the declaration, he claimed it had never been written.”

ordinateur turquie

In regime-minded medias, we also read other declarations by the Directorate of national education in Diyarbakir province: “The school in question is an establishment with 15 classes. All the classes are equiped with the latest in interactive boards used for all topics, including computer literacy. Moreover, there are three computers for administrative use. The student project consisting of making “computer models” as homework titled “making one’s own concept of a computer” with recuperated materials, was communicated to public opinion, skewing student declarations and with the allegation that “the students made computers because there are none at school” which is far from being the truth [?!]. In our school which was the topic of this information, all required material for educational activities exists and there are no shortages.”

As a reminder, on November 22 2010, the Turkish Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructures launched a project involving all the schools in Turkey. The “Fatih Project” announced it would offer within 5 years children from kindergarten through High School the “skills for the 21st Century.” Meaning: equiping each teacher and each child with a computer or a tablet, and every class with interactive boards; thus “creating a knowledge society and making technology useful for educational purposes”.

The project claims to offer children the infrastructure of computer material, hardware and software, including a computer room for each school, connections and sufficient power supplies to meet installation needs, networking, access to the web for every class, interactive boards and computers, along with the training of the teachers for conscientious, secure and manageable computer practices, as well as the use of computers in the educational curricula…

Unfortunately, many of these link-ups are obsolete, the objects involved, not to mention entire media sources that had published them having disappeared, it has been difficult to find clear and up-to-date information on what has truly been accomplished of this project. Apart from reactions to massive buying of tablets, all from the same. [If someone has more information, we are takers.]

If this ambitious project was given the name “FATİH”, it is not hard to imagine that the entire grey matter available in both ministries was raised to a boiling pitch in order to find a name that would produce a glorious acronym… Thus was chosen the following Fırsatları Arttırma ve Teknolojiyi İyileştirme Hareketi Projesi” which translates into something like “The projected movement to increase the opportunities and the technology”

In fact, in his speech launching the project, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said: “Whereas Fatih Sultan Mehmet put an end to the Middle Ages and began a new era with the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, with the FATIH project today we have put an end to a dark age in education and begun a new era, an era of information technologies in Turkish education.”

You must understand him… For the whole world, the Middle Ages ended with “the decline of the Roman Empire”, however in Turkish schools, you learn that it was the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmet II that put an end to the MiddleAges.

The dictionary definition for the word “fatih” is “conqueror” but also, as with all projects – it also describes the megalomania of the current regime, fulfilling Ottoman obligations in the blink of an eye. Therefore this is a project to conquer the digital fracture, or a technological act of faith… Or it was, that is, as it was supposed to end in 2015. Eastern Turkey seems to have eluded digital conquest, perhaps because of it’s being subjected to permanent conquest of a military nature.

Looking at the photos, another reflection comes to mind… Cardboard computers are a blot in the midst of the Fatih project, ongoing for 9 years. Yet another image jumps out at you : seeing in Turkey “a country envied by the entire planet” students in class, wearing their winter coats…

ordinateur computers

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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REDACTION | Journaliste
Chat de gouttière sans frontières. Journalisme à l'Université de Marmara. Architecture à l'Université de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.