Rolls fall as pupils sent out to work

28th September 2001 at 01:00

The economic crisis has forced cash-strapped parents to take their children out of school, reports Jon Gorvett

Three weeks into the school term, children are wondering why many of their classmates from last year have still not turned up.

These are the victims of the continuing financial crisis. Since the economy nose-dived last February, many Turks have had their salaries cut or lost their jobs, forcing them to pull their children out of school and send them to work.

According to labour and social security ministry figures, of Turkey's 13 million school-age children, 1.43m have failed to show up for class since the first day of term. In addition, the ministry says that 3.72m of those six to 14-year-olds who do go to class are also working when not at school - many doing several jobs.

In the big Turkish cities, children are often employed by the textiles industry or by small, family-run workshops, while if they live in the countryside, they often become farm labourers.

"The crisis is hitting hard in a number of ways," says high school teacher Selahattin Gumus from the Istanbul district of Bakirkoy. "It's not just kids being kept out either, many children who were going to fee-paying private schools are now turning up at the free state schools."

Fee-paying private schools have long been a major player in the Turkish education system, but at a cost to parents of pound;2,700-pound;4,000 per child per year, few can afford this option now.

"There are also many parents struggling to find the money for books, pens, uniforms and so on," adds Hasan Erzincan, a high school teacher in Kadikoy who is also head of the local branch of the teachers' union, Egit-Sen.

"Plus, because we get so little support from the government, almost all of the state schools charge extra fees to the pupils."

As schools often receive as little as pound;100 annually from the ministry for facilities, teachers are frequently forced to ask parents to come up with the money.

These extra fees can cover anything from paying the school's electricity bills to repainting the classrooms.

Teachers have been hard hit too. "In some of the poorer areas of the cities the only teachers they can afford are supply teachers. They earn about 75p an hour," Mr Gumus said.

"I have been teaching for 25 years and I get around pound;175 a month - this in a country where the government itself says you need pound;350 a month minimum for a family of four."

The government is currently trying to implement a series of drastic financial measures to stabilise the economy after major crashes in November and February. The Turkish currency has halved in value internationally since the spring and one in four businesses has gone bust.

Meanwhile, in the centre of Istanbul, the number of children on the streets selling gum, tissues or whatever they can find has swollen noticeably.

"It's not surprising what's going on," Mr Gumus said. "I am a parent as well as a teacher, and it's almost impossible for me to meet my own kids' needs."

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