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6.6 The school experience

Limited evidence is available about all these aspects of the school experience.  Children’s participation mechanisms (“school councils”) nominally exist in all schools, but they do not operate effectively and democratically, and so do not equip children with basic participation skills. In the WHO’s European Health Behaviour of School Children (HBSC) survey for 2009-10 (http://www.hbsc.org/publications/international), a higher proportion of children in Turkey said that they “liked school a lot” than in the majority of the 38 other European and North American states and territories where the survey was conducted (http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/163857/Social-determinants-of-health-and-well-being-among-young-people.pdf). In line with the broad pattern in other countries, satisfaction declined with age, and girls seemed to enjoy school more than boys. Thus while 75% of 11 year-old girls in Turkey liked school, only 25% of 15 year-old boys did so. Strikingly, liking school a lot was less common among children – both boys and girls – from families with higher socioeconomic status. However, the survey also contained less favourable information about Turkish children’s experiences in specific areas of school life, such as examination stress. Children in Turkey were more likely to feel pressured by schoolwork than children in any other country. Some 55% of 11 year-olds and almost 70% of 15 year-olds felt pressured. The frequency of examinations and the importance placed upon them by schools and parents sometimes brings children to the point of suicide. The survey also found that the proportions of girls and boys in Turkey who thought their classmates were kind and helpful was below-average. Further research on the reasons why girls and boys like or dislike school and on the perceptions of school of boys and girls from different regions and backgrounds could yield interesting results. More information is also needed on the extent of discrimination towards and among children on grounds of gender, ethnicity, social background or disability. Children themselves would be well placed to conduct research on these issues.

Violence: Violence is widespread in Turkish society and the media and not necessarily condemned. It also occurs in and around schools, and may include bullying, gang-like behaviour and the use of weapons among children themselves. A child’s use of violence may be motivated by a desire to prove himself (or herself) or linked to the stealing of pocket money, food or other items. Underlying causes may include low self-esteem or the psychological impacts of violence, abuse or neglect which the child himself suffers at home or elsewhere. In addition, although corporal punishment is banned, children – especially boys - complain quite frequently of physical violence and/or verbal abuse by teachers and school officials, whether acting out of anger or habitually as a form of discipline or control. In 2006-7, a parliamentary inquiry was held into violent tendencies among children and young people and violence in and around schools ( http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/develop/owa/arastirma_onergesi_gd.onerge_bilgileri?kanunlar_sira_no=491). In response, police officers were allocated to schools, and the Ministry of National Education developed a campaign against violence in school environments, involving schools, parents, children themselves and members of the local community such as traders and internet café owners. However, the impacts of these policies have not been fully assessed, and in its Concluding Observations in June 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child continued to recommend that Turkey “strengthen its programs on violence in schools, including both strict adherence to the prohibition of corporal punishment as well as fostering a spirit of non- violence amongst children.”

School health: Most schools are able to provide a safe clean physical environment and proper sanitary facilities (However, this is not true for all schools, especially in underdeveloped regions and areas at high risk of earthquakes). Schools also support children’s right to health by conforming to regulations for healthy food in canteens (where relevant), encouraging physical exercise (where possible) and providing health education (Insofar as it is included in the curriculum). Long-life milk has been provided free to primary schoolchildren starting in 2012. However, facilities and services for children who become unwell at school could be improved in many cases, and schools could sometimes do more to protect children from accidents and environmental dangers in and around the school, or to support children with chronic health problems. School health policies could be better codified, cooperation between the education and health sectors could be strengthened and legal changes might be considered to conduct regular health screenings and development monitoring in schools so as to protect and improve children’s health and diagnose health problems and risky behavior. A proposal to use the e-school database for the body-mass index, so to combat stunting, is one initiative in this direction.

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org