The Fatih Project: ed­u­cat­ing the fu­ture

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - By Tuncer Çetinkaya

Prime Min­is­ter Erdoğan has said he will pro­mote Turkey’s de­vel­op­ment on the pil­lars of health ser­vices, jus­tice, se­cu­rity, and -- first and fore­most -- ed­u­ca­tion. A key part of this plan is to be the Fatih Project, which would see ev­ery stu­dent in Turkey pro­vided with a free-of-charge tablet com­puter. This project is one of a kind; if suc­cess­ful it will help close the dig­i­tal gap be­tween de­vel­oped coun­tries and Turkey In the lead-up to the gen­eral elec­tion of June 12, Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke at a rally in Gümüşhane. His com­ments re­lated to a key is­sue for Turkey’s youth­ful and ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tion: ed­u­ca­tion. Bran­dish­ing a tablet com­puter, he ad­dressed the crowd: “Now we have the Fatih Project. We mean to in­tro­duce smart boards in our schools and class­rooms. God will­ing, we will equip all our schools with smart boards within four years. In ad­di­tion, we are also re­liev­ing you of books. What do we mean by this? We are mov­ing to elec­tronic books.”

This speech rep­re­sented the first un­veil­ing of plans to pro­vide ev­ery stu­dent in Turkey with a free-ofcharge tablet com­puter. Even bu­reau­crats at the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion were sur­prised by the an­nounce­ment -- the project was new to them too, and they had no plans in place what­so­ever.

The prime min­is­ter’s e-book project has its ori­gins in the Fatih Project ini­ti­ated about a year ago in İstanbul’s dis­trict of the same name. While the name ref­er­ences the dis­trict and Ot­toman Em­peror Mehmet the Con­queror (or “Fatih” in Turk­ish) after whom it was named, it is also the acro­nym for “Fır­sat­ları Artırma, Te­knolo­jiyi İy­ileştirme Hareketi” (Move­ment for the De­vel­op­ment of Op­por­tu­ni­ties and Im­prove­ment of Tech­nol­ogy).

While some re­gard projects like Fatih and the use of tablet com­put­ers as a revo­lu­tion in ed­u­ca­tion, oth­ers ar­gue they will end up turn­ing Turkey into a “tech­no­log­i­cal land­fill.” Only time will tell. The key point in the dis­cus­sions sparked by Erdoğan’s rev­e­la­tions re­lates to the sheer mag­ni­tude of the project. As the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion says: “This is not just an ed­u­ca­tion project, this is a na­tional project.” The scheme will be rolled out na­tion­wide in all schools, in con­trast to the small-scale projects car­ried out else­where in the world like the US, UK, Por­tu­gal, Ja­pan and South Korea. The project in­volves pro­vid­ing free tablet com­put­ers to about 16 mil­lion stu­dents; the in­stal­la­tion of panel-type in­ter­ac­tive LCD board sys­tems -- also known as “smart boards” -in ev­ery class­room in ev­ery school; the pro­vi­sion of in­tranet and In­ter­net ser­vices in all class­rooms; the in­stal­la­tion of dig­i­tal vi­su­al­iz­ers com­pat­i­ble with mi­cro­scopes; and the pro­vi­sion of net­work-con­nected multi-func­tional prin­ters and many other items of equip­ment.

What’s more, the multi-bil­lion dol­lar hard­ware is the sim­plest part of the is­sue; in ad­di­tion, there is the soft­ware and con­tent as­pect. This too comes with a hefty price tag. There are scarcely any com­pa­nies in Turkey ca­pa­ble of com­pil­ing elec­tronic con­tent for dis-

play on smart boards. Min­istry of­fi­cials are in touch with th­ese com­pa­nies, but there are also le­gal com­pli­ca­tions in the form of the re­quire­ment for all ma­te­ri­als and con­tent used in schools to be ap­proved by the min­istry’s Ed­u­ca­tion and Dis­ci­pline Board. Unity of cur­ricu­lum in ed­u­ca­tion, which is not a very popular prac­tice else­where in the world and which in­volves ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy be­ing de­ter­mined ex­clu­sively by the state, makes it im­pos­si­ble for schools to act in­de­pen­dently. There are no elec­tronic con­tent spe­cial­ists on the Ed­u­ca­tion and Dis­ci­pline Board, and this is where the smart board is­sue reaches a dead end. The same is true of e-books. Pro­duc­ing e-book con­tent and main­tain­ing it, in other words up­dat­ing it, seems to be the most sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem.

More­over, it is un­cer­tain how teach­ers will deal with con­vey­ing all this con­tent and equip­ment to stu­dents. A min­istry survey con­ducted among 300 teach­ers in 15 dif­fer­ent prov­inces re­vealed that 85 per­cent of teach­ers wanted to make use of pro­jec­tors, com­put­ers and the In­ter­net in their class­rooms. How­ever, this is not re­flected in prac­tice. To be­gin with, fu­ture teach­ers do not re­ceive rel­e­vant train­ing. Nei­ther the syl­labus nor the tech­no­log­i­cal support pro­vided for fu­ture teach­ers at train­ing col­leges is com­pat­i­ble with smart boards or tablet com­put­ers. Ex­pe­ri­ence in­di­cates that the majority of teach­ers be­come set in their ways once they start work­ing. It is un­likely this project will be a suc­cess with­out teach­ers tak­ing on board the fact that they will be us­ing smart boards and tablet com­put­ers dur­ing lessons. While the min­istry sug­gests teach­ers will be trained in this field via pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment pro­grams, it is dif­fi­cult to elim­i­nate the ques­tion marks sur­round­ing how suc­cess­ful this prac­tice is likely to be.

While it is true the po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles to and short­com­ings of the project are nu­mer­ous, if it is ac­com­plished it will rep­re­sent an ed­u­ca­tion revo­lu­tion for Turkey. Through the use of smart boards, teach­ers will be able to pro­vide stu­dents with 10 times more les­son con­tent dur­ing classes; catch­ing and main­tain­ing their at­ten­tion through an­i­ma­tions, video clips, in­ter­ac­tive ques­tions and ex­er­cises -- mak­ing ed­u­ca­tion more en­joy­able and ap­peal­ing.

This project is one of a kind: If suc­cess­ful it will help close the dig­i­tal gap be­tween de­vel­oped coun­tries and Turkey. Smart boards and e-books are not yet a real sub­sti­tute for reg­u­lar books in schools; they rep­re­sent com­ple­men­tary tech­nol­ogy for ed­u­ca­tion. With the help of this tech­nol­ogy, stu­dents will be able to read Turk­ish and world clas­sics stored in their tablet com­put­ers, con­nect to the In­ter­net to carry out lit­er­a­ture searches no mat­ter where they are, do their home­work mak­ing use of text books stored in their tablet com­put­ers and send it to their teach­ers, re­visit saved lessons and so on. The sys­tem aims to fa­cil­i­tate learn­ing for stu­dents, wher­ever and when­ever they want to study.

Prime Min­is­ter Erdoğan has sug­gested he will help raise Turkey on four pil­lars: ed­u­ca­tion, health ser­vices, jus­tice and se­cu­rity, with ed­u­ca­tion first among them. The prime min­is­ter has ef­fec­tively set a tar­get for the bu­reau­crats of the min­istry with th­ese tech­nol­ogy-heavy projects. The tech­nocrats have be­gun work: The first step will be taken in Fe­bru­ary 2012. It is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how long it will take to equip all the schools in Turkey with smart boards and com­put­ers or to over­come ob­sta­cles, but this is a case of the ex­pres­sion, “Mi­gra­tion is or­ga­nized on the road,” mean­ing: “Let’s get started -- the rest will follow and short­com­ings will be elim­i­nated in time.”

PHOTO: ZA­MAN, ONUR ÇOBAN

Ad­dress­ing an AK Party rally in Zongul­dak, Prime Min­is­ter Erdoğan holds up a tablet com­puter. (May 7, 2011)

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