Gulen schools in other countries provide insight into the U.S. Gulen charter schools
Gulen schools in other countries have some striking similarities with the publicly-funded Gulen charter schools in the United States, even though nearly all these international schools are privately funded. Studies of Gulen schools in other countries can be very illuminating with regard to the U.S. schools.
One example is a report entitled “The Educational Theory of Fethullah Gulen and its Practice in South Africa,” by Yasien Mohamed. The report is downloadable from one of the Gulen Movement’s websites at the following link:
Below is a list of several questions that an American might have after interaction with a Gulen school, perhaps as a teacher or parent. Following each question, particularly pertinent lines from Mohamed’s report are quoted.
Why the preference in hiring for Turkish (more accurately, Gulenist) teachers?
“The teachers are carefully selected. Those who had a Gülen schooling are preferred as they are more likely to sacrifice their time and talent.”
Why is there constant turnover of teachers?
“A moral concept that is applied to teachers is that of hijrah (migration). A true believer is always ready for migration. After several years of service, a teacher may be asked to move to a school in another province or country. The reason for this could be academic or moral. A physics teacher may be asked to move to a school where he is more needed, or because of his complacency and boredom, he is placed in a school that is more challenging and reinvigorating.
“The moral reason fits in with the concept of migration. If a teacher stays in a school for as long as a decade, he is more likely to develop material attachments to his school, house, and friendships. If he is required to move to another school he will be most reluctant. But if his stay is for only five years, he will be able to make the hijrah.”
It seems that the Turkish (more accurately, Gulenist) teachers are treated differently. Their lifestyle is very frugal, even though the evidence suggests they are paid more than other teachers.
“Teachers are expected to be frugal; they are not permitted, or encouraged, to live in expensive apartments, drive expensive cars, and wear expensive clothes. It is believed that such extravagances could blemish the image of the school and damage the trust of the funders. However, teachers do not live in poverty; they earn a decent salary, receive hospital care and obtain a pension upon retirement. (….) Thus, the teacher’s place of residence is determined by the proximity to the school, and not determined by class or social status. The health and pension benefits apply only to Turkish teachers. A frugal life-style is expected of the Turkish teachers only.”
The teachers seem to give all their attention to high-performing students, and to ignore the lower-performing students.
“Turkish teachers are qualified academically for the subject that they teach; some have MA or MSc degrees. Not many, however, have a teacher’s diploma or a Degree in Education. This can be a drawback in the system as the teachers may not be able to cope with the less intelligent child. Nevertheless, the school is not aimed at the struggling child, but a child with average or above average intelligence. In this sense the school may be regarded as elitist, but it is only academically elitist; for the norm is to be selective with admission on academic grounds.”
The Gulenist teachers have poor English skills. Doesn’t this detract from their teaching effectiveness?
“Secondly, there is the problem of the English communicative ability of the Turkish teachers. Generally, teachers who are science graduates have a reading ability in English, but mainly for scientific subjects. When they come to Cape Town they become fluent in English, and this is only after five or seven years, depending also on how much they mix and practice with non-Turkish friends.
"While they are still improving their English, they are not effective communicators, and this is what undermines the efficacy of their teaching. Hence, the learning and discipline of pupils are affected. Thirdly, the rotation of teachers proved to be more disadvantageous than advantageous. The disadvantage is that just when the teacher has acquired English fluency, perhaps after five years, he is then posted to another school. The new teacher has to now also adapt to the new environment, not only in building up his English skills, but also in adapting to the culture and background of the learners. The pupils in turn also have to adapt to the new teacher. This rotation undermines the stability and regularity of the school .....”
Why does the school place such an emphasis on awards and publicity? Isn’t the school really trying to restrict its enrollment to high performing students to improve its publicity?
“Strict admission is not the policy of the school, but Mr Ilhami, the principal, indicated that is important in the South African context. He said: “Although not ethical, we have to adopt a strict admissions policy, otherwise we cannot ensure merit and distinction passes. Olympiad competitions and medals have worked elsewhere, but not in South Africa, where the school is judged purely on the basis of matriculation results (Ilhami: Interview, August, 2006). The stricter admission policy will eventually do more for the publicity of the school than any Olympiad competition or gold medal awards. The fruit of it will be seen five years later when those learners are in Grade 12 and their names appear in the newspapers showing that they have obtained distinction and merit passes.”
Why do I get the impression that the school is controlled by somebody far away, and not just by the local administration and board of directors?
“Teachers are inspired by Gülen’s educational theory, but there is no organic link with him as the schools are managed autonomously. Naturally, there is a degree of consultation with Turkish educators at the national level, but this is intended to help improve administrative efficiency and academic excellence.”
Why is the administration focused on building new schools when the already existing schools still have needs? Aren’t the new schools draining resources from the more established ones?
“Once these schools become profitable, they will be in a position to subsidize Gülen schools in the poorer areas.”