One of the goals I had for my recent trip to Turkey was to learn more about the Village Institutes (Köy Enstitüleri) there. I knew that they represented an innovative approach to expanding opportunities for learning, but that they had come to an abrupt end in the late 1940’s.
I’d read several articles about the Institutes (see below), and also knew that they had been influenced by John Dewey’s report on the Turkish educational system, but I wanted to hear firsthand from Turkish people who had been involved with the Institutes, or had studied them from a Turkish perspective.
The Village Institutes were created to meet a serious educational need. In 1928 (the year of the introduction of the Latin script in Turkey), 82.5 per cent of men and 95.2 per cent of women were illiterate. For 13.6 million people, there were only 4,894 elementary schools and most of those were in the towns, not the villages where most of the people lived (Vexliard & Aytac, 1964).
Between 1939 and 1946 twenty-one co-educational boarding schools were built to prepare primary school teachers. Much of the construction work was done by pupils and teachers. Youth of both sexes, aged twelve to sixteen, who had completed a five-year village primary school, qualified for admission. Their education was free following a pledge to teach in an assigned village for twenty years after graduation.
The duties of the new teachers included:
- primary education
- adult education in the villages
- raising the cultural level of the villages through the distribution of books, educational programs, radio, and vocal, dance, & instrumental music education; the photo above (by George Pickow/Three Lions/Getty Images), shows Turkish teenagers in an Institute presenting a mass concert on the saz, the Turkish national instrument
- promoting progressive agricultural techniques in the fields, the orchards, and kitchen gardens; the raising of livestock; rural handicrafts such as ironwork, carpentry, leather work, mechanics, and electricity
- instruction for adults in child-rearing, housekeeping, needlework
- the creation and development of rural cooperatives
The graduates of the Institutes were to return to their villages as leaders and reformers. Teachers, students, and villagers in general were to learn practical skills, mostly related to their agricultural economy, new tools for life, and general education.
The Institute approach embodied ideas of Ataturk, Dewey, and others such as integrating theory and practice, focusing on the underserved, working across institutions, and a systemic approach to building a stronger society. Classical education was to be combined with practical abilities and applied to local needs.
The Institutes had a major impact, and many people regret that they were shut down. But there was resistance against this secular and mixed education. Some feared that it would educate ‘the communists of tomorrow,’ a damning statement during the Cold War. Traditionalists questioned the coeducational and secular aspects. Powerful landlords did not appreciate the goal of educating children who could ask “Why?” questions. There were also questions about the organization and preparation of the teachers. By 1953 the Village Institutes had been completely shut down.
I heard strong statements from people who knew about the Institutes and decried their closing. An artist we met, who had been born during the Institute period, said “They killed the Turkish children! They murdered Turkey’s future!”
Others were more reserved, but still felt that a crucial opportunity had been lost. There are estimates of major losses for Turkey in terms of general literacy and economic development still being felt today because of the closings.
From the little I know, it appears that the Village Institutes demonstrated a successful model for education that could be applied anywhere after suitable adjustment for local needs. I’d like to learn more, and have many questions.
For example, all the photos I’ve seen show only (or mostly) young men, even though the Institutes were coeducational. How did the young men and women get along? How did they each experience the Institutes? The graduates would now be in their 80’s. How do they think about that experience today? What did their training mean for the villages where they went to teach?
How do the Village Institutes compare to other grassroots, community-based education initiatives, such as the school at Weedpatch Camp in California, Foxfire, the Misiones Pedagogicas (village literacy program in Spain, which was shut down by Franco), Paulo Freirean projects in many countries, Paseo Boricua, the Reggio Emilia Approach, or the school set up by the schoolboys of Barbiana?
Perhaps most importantly, could or should the Institutes be revived? Or, are there principles we can derive from them that would be valuable for the more urban populations of today?
Ata, Bahri (2000). The influence of an American educator (John Dewey) on the Turkish educational system. Turkish Yearbook of International Relations (Milletlerarası Münasebetler Türk Yıllığı), 31. Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi.
Bilgi, Sabiha, & Özsoy, Seckin (2005). John Dewey’s travelings into the project of Turkish modernity. In Thomas S. Popkewitz (ed.), Inventing the modern self and John Dewey: Modernities and the traveling of pragmatism in education (pp. 153-177). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dewey, John (1983). Report and recommendations upon Turkish education. In Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), The Middle Works: Essays on Politics and Society, 1923-1924. Vol. 15 of Collected Works. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press.
Eğrikavuk, Işil (2010, April 9). Anniversary marks unfinished story of Turkish village schools. Hürriyet Daily News.
Stirling, Paul (1965, 1994). Turkish village. Canterbury, UK: Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, University of Kent at Canterbury.
Stone, Frank A. (1974). Rural revitalization and the Village Institutes in Turkey: Sponsors and critics. Comparative Education Review, 18(3), 419–429.
Uygun, Selçuk (2008, November). The impact of John Dewey on the teacher education system in Turkey. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 36(4), 291–307.
Vexliard, Alexandre, & Aytac, Kemal (1964). The Village Institutes in Turkey. Comparative Education Review. 8(1), 41-47.
Wolf-Gazo, Ernest (1996). John Dewey in Turkey: An educational mission. Journal of American Studies of Turkey, 3, 15-42.
Yılmaz, Omer (1977). Schools for developing countries: The Turkish Village Institutes. Educational Planning, 3(4), 72–80.