High-scoring students

This week the newspapers are full of young guys, and now and then a young girl, with their hands up in the sky: they got good results in their ÖSS. That’s an exam at the end of the school year, which determines whether you are smart enough for university and, if so, for which university. The guys with their hands up in the sky made hardly any mistakes in the 180 questions exam, some even scored 100%. Wow, they are smart!

Are they? Or are these the kids that just studied the hardest, that managed to most completely shut out their social lives, and that have a very good memory for facts? I’m afraid so. They can be smart too, but I don’t think the multiple choice test really defines how smart you are. However the ÖSS is not something you can escape from. It can define your future. Having a university degree is not something that will guarantee you a job in Turkey; only if you graduate from one of the best universities will you have a chance. Middle East Technical University (METÜ) and Ankara University, Bosporus University, Istanbul Technical University, Bilkent University and Istanbul University, those are among the ones to aim for. After the exam, lists are published showing which universities take students with how many points in their ÖSS.

To score well, just being smart, going to school and studying is not nearly enough. And that’s where the dershane come in. You see them everywhere in Turkey, the private schools that get teenagers ready for the ÖSS. When you take the ÖSS, you are usually 17 years old, and many teenagers go to dershane from age 14, 15, and sometimes 16. They go on Saturday and Sunday, after a normal week at school. It’s not that you get a better understanding there of the things you learn at your normal school, no, you learn different things, because high school knowledge is more or less useless for the ÖSS. And at night do these kids zap some TV or go out with friends? No, at night, they dive into the books again at home. In the weeks before the exam, many 17 year olds don’t go to their normal school any more but focus on dershane and private study.

Not everybody is aiming for a top university. For some, any university will do, even if it’s a brand new one that doesn’t even have sufficient staff yet. Because having a university degree makes you more popular in the marriage market. Many middle class and upper class Turks really don’t want a son- or daughter-in-law who has no university degree. Many of those end up jobless anyway. How nice it would be if good old-fashioned professions had a bit more status. If you are a good electrician, plumber, furniture maker or blacksmith, you can open your own business – a dream for every Turk – and earn a very reasonable living. Better then being an ‘engineer’ in some vague field with a degree from some university in an Anatolian town nobody ever heard of.

The private schools use the high-scoring students in their advertisement for the next season. Banners appear. From this dershane, 10 students get to go to Bosporus University, 6 to METÜ! The best scoring ÖSS student came from this dershane! And every year, both politicians and university rectors say the system needs to change, that it’s gotten out of hand, but nobody is brave enough to actually take any action. I’m afraid that, for years to come, the lives of Turkish teenagers will be defined by nothing but dershane and studying.

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