Australia’s education system is considered to have some of the highest standards in the world and enjoys international recognition.
Over the past decades, Australia has emerged as one of the top five providers of international education services, after the US, the UK, Germany and France.
Hence, Australia is widely renowned as being among the world leaders in the field of education, and each year the country attracts more than 450,000 students from about 200 countries. Education is Australia’s second largest services export sector, behind tourism, and became the third largest export overall, contributing $17.2 billion in export income to the economy in 2008-09, an increase of 23.2 percent from the previous financial year. While Australia is well regarded for providing high-quality education, attracting thousands of students from around the world, being able to develop a large-scale, internationally competitive education industry and having a comparative advantage in the English language, it has also been a destination for Turkish schools inspired by the philosophy of contemporary Turkish scholar, thinker, author, poet, educational activist and opinion leader Fethullah Gulen. Gulen-inspired schools in both their country of origin, Turkey, and abroad, particularly in Central Asia, the Balkans and African countries have attracted scholars’ attention from Western countries due to their continuous academic accomplishments, instructing subjects in English and emphasis on universal ethical values. These schools have delivered vastly elevated rates of student retention, graduation and matriculation in comparison to the state level of each of the countries in which they have been established.
Many of the students of these modern and secular schools have achieved an unrivaled reputation for routinely outperforming other students in the International Science Olympiads as well as obtaining high university entrance exam scores in comparison to national levels. However, what could be the potential reasons be for opening private Turkish schools in an advanced democracy such as Australia, a nation with a quality education system? In fact, in an overall comparison the education system of Turkey is below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, whereas the Australian education system is above. For example, in 2008 the percentage of the population that had attained at least an upper-secondary education for the 25-34-year- old age group was 37 percent for Turkey and 80 percent for Australia; the percentage for the 25-64-year-old age group was 28 percent and 67 percent, respectively.
Moreover, while only very recently have Turkish universities entered the top 400 world’s best university list, Australia’s universities are ranked in the top 20. The percentage of the population that has attained tertiary education for the age bracket between 25-34-years old is 13 percent for Turkey and 39 percent for Australia; there is a significant gap for the 25-64-year-old age group, which came in at 10 percent and 33 percent, respectively. For both age groups Turkey’s tertiary educational attainment statistics are below those of the OECD average (33 percent for the 25-34 age bracket and 27 percent for the 25-64 age groups) and Australia’s statistics are above. Consequently, why should Turkish schools be established in Australia? How could Turkish schools be considered a better choice by Australian parents? How can Turkish schools compete with other well-established private and public schools in Australia? What are the retention, graduation and matriculation rates for Turkish schools in comparison to state levels in Australia? The first private, independent and non-denominational Gulen-inspired school in Australia, Sule College, was founded in 1996 in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), followed by Isik College in 1997 in Melbourne, Victoria, and the network has expanded to 17 schools as of 2010
Isik College’s reputation
Since its graduates graduated in 2002, Isik College has gained a reputation for being the top performing Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) School in the state. In 2008, according to the On Track Data Survey released by the Victorian government, Isik College Upfield Boys campus was ranked the second-best school in Victoria. Dandenong Campus, with its first graduates, was ranked the third best, and Eastmeadows Girls Campus was ranked the fourth best.
For two consecutive years, in 2006 and 2007, Isik College Eastmeadows campus was placed first, obtaining a 100 percent university entrance rate in Victoria. Similarly, the Upfield campus could boast that 95 percent of its VCE graduates had entered university, with 5 percent of students having deferred, despite being offered admission to tertiary institutions. This made Isik College Upfield campus the third best school in the state. The principals and students have credited the school’s achievements to the close relationship between students and teachers. One of the graduating female students also referred to the “dedication and devotion” of teachers. In an interview with the Star daily, she said: “It is very easy to communicate with our teachers, and whenever we need help they are more than happy to give us anything we need. It takes a lot of pressure off the students when they know they are working hand in hand with their teachers.”
Yusuf Doger, the student with the highest VCE score for 2008 from the Upfield campus, is studying for a bachelor of science at Melbourne University and hopes to become a teacher to give back to other students in the way his teachers helped him. In the interview with the Hume Leader newspaper he said: “Our teachers stayed back after school and held special classes [on weekends]. The teachers helped motivate us so much, I know if it was not for them I would not have gotten such a high score.”
The academic success accomplished by the students continued in the year 2009 with the highest VCE score of 99.45 percent. Entering only recently into the VCE arena, Isik College has demonstrated the dedication and accomplishments that distinguish it from other schools in Victoria.
Top echelons of the state
Despite its short history Sule College in NSW, with its dedicated staff, has made a place for itself among the most prestigious schools in the state with 99 percent of students entering university in 2008 and 98 percent in 2009. Australia is one of the top-performing five countries in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in mathematics problem-solving, while Turkey is 28th out of 30 member economies. However, the accomplishments of Turkish schools in Australia in Mathematics reveal the paradox within this statement.
Academic results in 2009 revealed that Sule College was first in the state of NSW in Advanced Mathematics by outscoring well-established and illustrious private and public, academically selective schools. The subject average for Sule College, 90.63 percent, in this subject is well above the state’s, 74.97 percent. The school has been recognized as the “Best school by subject” in the state due to its Band 6 (a mark of between 90 and 100) performance. Bands are rankings that describe the knowledge, skills and understanding of the course typically demonstrated by students. With 72.73 percent of it students scoring in the top Band 6, Sule College has been listed as the leading school in the state. Mathematics teacher Cem Giray, who graduated from the mathematics department of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, acknowledges the school’s commitment and aspirations for excellence in education as the reason behind the exceptional success of the school. A 2009 graduate has credited the role of the school and the mathematics teacher with her success: “I most definitely credit both the school and teacher for my success, as I believe the motivational environment provided by the school, as well as extra support given by our teacher, both during and after school, as well as the quality lessons taught by the most genius and dedicated math teacher I have encountered in my life.”
In general mathematics while 6 percent of students in the state received a Band 6 ranking, 39 percent of Sule College’s students received a Band 6 ranking, which is six times greater than those in the state. In individual achievement a Sule College student ranked first in general mathematics in the state in 2009. Scholarly achievement is evident not only in mathematics, but also in the social sciences. In business studies a female student of Sule College ranked fourth in the state, leaving several of her counterparts behind. The rate of Band 6 ranking in business is also high, with 19 percent for Sule College and 8 percent for the state.
An outstanding performance is not only evident in 2009, but also in previous years. In 2008 major success was achieved in advanced English, where 89 percent of the students achieved scores in the top Band 5 and 6 rankings. One 2008 graduate from a non-English speaking background made it into the top 0.23 percent in standard English in the state. Moreover, in advanced English, with 99 percent of its students from non-English speaking backgrounds, Sule has placed itself in the top 10 percent in NSW. In 2006, Sule College’s Band 6 scores for advanced English were much higher than those in the rest of the state, which made Sule College first in the region.
Above average scores
Out of all the examined subjects, Sule College received scores far above the average for the state in previous years. The school has left the rest of the state behind in terms of high achievement, with significantly more Band 6 scores than most other schools in the state.
The school principals noted that these remarkable results are not coincidental; the results were gained due to the committed teachers of both colleges, who strive for excellence and are willing to devote much time to their students after school, on weekends and on holiday breaks. The extraordinary dedication of teachers and commitment to excellence are major contributing factors that place Turkish schools among the top schools in Australia despite only having been recently established.
School retention and other factors related to school attendance, increasing school drop-out rates and truancy are multidimensional issues that the Australian educational system is facing. Some of the factors causing low rates of school retention are continual experiences of academic failure, alienating school environments and poor student-teacher relations in schools. The school retention rates for the Gulen schools in Australia are also considerably lofty compared to the state and national levels. For instance, the retention rate for years 10-12 for Sule College is 93 percent, which places it not only higher than the state level but above the Australian average of 74.3 percent. By focusing on individual students’ academic, social and behavioral progress, as well as on ensuring friendly relationships between student, family and teacher, Isik and Sule colleges are attracting new students and encouraging existing students not only to remain in school, but to achieve distinguished results which enable them to pursue higher education in tertiary institutions.
Providing quality educational services in a country that has a comparative advantage and an already high standard of education among the top five largest economies in the world is a daunting task. Despite this Turkish schools in Australia have managed to earn themselves prestige and high rankings.
The academic accomplishments, high rates of retention, graduation and matriculation rates of these schools have resulted in their gaining the support of the state, government authorities, parents and various communities in Australia. Along with academic excellence, the schools impart universal ethical values that promote tolerance, love, respect and dialogue. These Turkish schools have contributed to the philosophy of tolerance and choice in the multicultural society of Australia.
Author: Çemen Polat holds a bachelor and master’s degree in economics and business management. Currently she is a Ph.D. student at the School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Australia.
Source: Today’s Zaman