It’s been a good many years since I was summoned to a Headmaster’s office. Back then, it
meant standing outside, head bowed, anticipating the inevitable punishment that was to come.
Earlier this week, on a hot June afternoon, I had a meeting of an altogether more pleasant
sort with the inspirational Head of Turunç Village School, Ali Özbek. With my trusty “Girl
Friday” Amanda Kartal alongside, I spent a really enjoyable time chatting to Mr. Özbek
about the vital role that the school plays in the life of the village and about his plans and aspirations for
the young people he calls "the citizens of tomorrow".
Turunç School is on the right hand side of the road as you enter the village. Opened in its
current location in 1965 it now provides education for around 160 children from Turunç
and the surrounding villages of Amos, Kumlubük and Dereözü. There are actually three main
buildings on the site:
The Primary school has 97 pupils aged 7 to 10
The Secondary school has 63 pupils in the 11-14 age group
The brightly-coloured Kerpiç Okul (“Adobe”) building houses the nursery class
and dining hall and was built in 2012 by volunteers using locally sourced,
ecologically friendly materials
In addition to Mr. Özbek, there are six primary and eight secondary teachers – that’s a
pupil-to- teacher ratio that many UK schools would envy. The school year runs from September
to June with a mid-year break in late January. Our visit takes place a couple of days before
the start of the long summer vacation. There is an informal feeling about the place – I am told
that teaching is pretty much finished and that children are completing projects and
preparing for the holidays. Despite the heat and the relaxed atmosphere, behaviour seems
impeccable: no running, yelling or horseplay. As the kids head in from their
lunchtime break, I see one little girl pick up a water bottle that someone has discarded and put it
into a waste bin.
The curriculum is much like that in other counties. At Primary level this includes
Turkish, maths, geography, art, music and PE. Social Studies and Biology get added to the
curriculum in the Secondary school. English is taught at all stages from primary year 2. The
school is well equipped with IT facilities and is especially proud of its science lab which
owes much to the fund-raising work of
Turunç Women’s Group.
'Happiness' is a word that comes up frequently in my discussion with Mr.
Özbek. “We want to make it possible for every child to excel and whatever he/she is good at”
he tells me. “But”, he adds, “the key to good learning is happiness, and for a child to be
happy she/he has to be loved”. When I ask about the challenges he faces here in Turunç, I expect
government bureaucracy, funding, staff recruitment, etc. to be mentioned - and I am
sure that some of these are indeed frustrations. However, the biggest challenge he cites is
“parents that don’t care”. “I have a great teaching staff”, he assures me, “but the
role of parents is equally important.”
I am, of course, completely reliant on Amanda for translation, but somehow Mr. Özbek’s passion
for this school and its children seems to transcend our language barrier. He has only been
Head for a year, but is already highly regarded by parents and the school's achievements (yes –
they have them in Turkey too!) – bear that out. There are 17 similar public schools in the
Marmaris area and Turunç School is #5 in this peer group. And, it's clear that his ambitions
do not stop there with plans to "prepare children for the modern world" with knowledge of technology
and a computer tablet for every child. That’s a great aspiration for the children of the village.
“How does tourism affect the school?” I ask. “Good and bad” – he answers honestly. “Many
parents work in the tourism sector – that means long hours away from their children during the
summer break. The benefit though, is the interaction that children can have with other
cultures: I positively encourage my pupils to make friends with foreign visitors and learn
new things from them” – I found that a really refreshing perspective.
We get around to talking about school projects and he is quick to point out the
invaluable role of the PTA in raising funds for investments that either wouldn’t get done or
would take years to receive government funding. His next pressing project is to provide proper
seating for all pupil ages. At the moment, pupils sit on old wooden benches – all of the
same height: remember, pupils range from 7 to 14 years old. That seems such a basic requirement
and one which has to be fundamental to good attention and learning. It costs 2,500TL (about £600) to
equip each class (there are eight of them). Expect to see fundraising initiatives by the PTA
in the coming months and do please support them – knowing that your contributions will be well
His other project has a lighter theme but it’s one to which he is equally committed. The school
already has a small vegetable garden and he has ambitions to expand this to include livestock
such as hens and even possibly bees. He sees this project both preserving the farming
traditions of the area and helping the children learn responsibility for
their own initiatives. I for one can’t wait to see School Honey on sale in the village.
Before we leave, he asks me that, when this interview is published, to be sure to pass on his thanks to
all visitors and expat residents for supporting school fundraising initiatives. “Anyone who
would like to see how their contributions have made a difference to the school is welcome to
visit” he tells me – and I believe that’s a sincere invitation.
My guide for the day, Amanda Kartal, is co-chairperson of the Parent Teacher Association.
The PTA does amazing work and, over the years, has raised thousands of lira to help the school
carry out essential projects which improve the childrens' education.
Please look out for and support their fundraising projects when you visit Turunç.