‘At night we have some time for a social life’

Go to school during the summer holidays? In Turkey that’s quite normal. Without ‘summer school’ it’s impossible to get a place at a good university. 

The bell rings, the break is over. Özden Korkmaz (17) and Onur Vural (18) want to hurry off to class immediately, but reluctantly make time for a picture. ‘Now I really have to go, class is starting’, says Özen then, and off they go. It’s Friday morning, in the middle of the summer holidays. The weather outside is great, but in this private school in Istanbul about fifty pupils have their noses in the books. Seven mornings a week. They are preparing for the national university entrance exam.

Such a private school is called ‘dershane’, and they can be found everywhere in Turkey. They give extra classes in all secondary school subjects. Without these extra classes it’s practically impossible to do well in the university entrance exams, so all pupils who want to go to university attend a dershane. Not only for much of the summer holidays, but also after the schools have started again: then they will go after school, and on Saturday, and on Sunday.

from left to right in the dershane canteen: Özden, Onur, Kardelen, Kader

‘It’s just very important for our future’, says Kader Sevgin (16), who’s chatting with some girlfriends in the cafeteria. She wants to study law at the university in Izmir,which has a good reputation. Her friend Kardelen Filorinali (17) wants to be an engineer and attend a university in Istanbul. ‘Preferably Bosporus University, because it’s the best’, she adds. She’s now going to a dershane for the second year, and also works hard on her school-work at home.

When they hear that Dutch youngsters really don’t go to school in their summer holidays and would even refuse to do so, they explain why it’s different for them. Onur: ‘I want to study medicine and I’d love to go to a good university in Ankara. The better you do in the university entrance exam, the better the university you can go to. So you really have to end up as one of the best. If not, you will end up with a university diploma that won’t find you a good job.’

His friend Özden wants to be an engineer and would love to go and study in Germany. ‘But the chance that that will happen is small’, he says. So he goes for the second best option: one of the best Turkish universities. But does he always feel like getting up in the morning to pack his school bag and go to a class room? He finds that a silly question: ‘It’s only for two school years that we go to school this much, that’s not so bad is it?’ Onur does understand the question: ‘I sometimes tell my mother I don’t feel like going, but I know I just have to go. Of course, sometimes I would prefer to just go play some soccer.’

Seven days a week

The university entrance exams will be held in the spring, and are considered the most important exams in life. There are many universities in Turkey, but the quality differs a lot and if you end up at a small university in some remote city, your diploma won’t have much value. Besides that, it’s a fight to get a place, because many, many more youngsters want to go to university than there are places available. Many pupils don’t go to their normal school at all in the weeks before the exam but just attend the dershane full time (seven days a week!). After the exam they finish their normal high school, but that is hardly important anymore.

One year of dershane costs around five thousand Turkish lira (about 2000 euros), but Özden and Onur get a discount because they are so smart. Burcu Baydemir, the student coach of the dershane, explains that students who do well in the dershane entrance exam get a discount: ‘They will probably get a place at a good university’, she says, ‘and we can use that again in our marketing’. So, just for attending the dershane and a possible discount the youngsters have to do an exam? ‘Yes, that’s the way it is’, says Burcu. ‘That’s just how the system works.’

Özden, Onur, Kardelen and Kader hurry out of the cafeteria to the class room. A few hours to go, then they can go home, only to start doing their homework. And then? Özden: ‘At night we have some time left for our social life.’

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