After the earthquake students voice their concerns in Turkey

Students voice their concerns on the decision regarding online education to Arti Gercek

Following the 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes centered in Maras, thousands of affected people were placed in KYK (Credit and Dormitories Agency) dormitories. After these quick decisions, students were asked to vacate the dormitories in two days. In a statement dated 17 February, the YOK (Higher Education Council) indicated that education would take place online in Turkey for the time being, and the situation would be reviewed in April, when the option of hybrid education would be on the table. Academics, political parties, and education unions have called on the government regarding the mistake involved in this decision. What do college students think of their situation after being subjected to such uncertainty and problems? What are their problems, what do they demand? Students in various provinces have told of their problems to Arti Gercek.

“We keep paying for rent and utility bills for houses we cannot live in.”

Leyla, a Sakarya University student told Arti Gercek, “Please help us to get our voices heard.” Since she started college during the pandemic, she has already gone through distance-learning for 1.5 years. She describes this new decision as a disappointment and explains her situation:

“It was truly a great disappointment to experience the same crisis after the pandemic. None of us expected the possibility of closing the campuses, and we were very surprised. We have become alienated from our departments and schools, and the efficiency of the education we receive has been reduced almost by half. Years are passing by without students getting to know their professors, or learning about the libraries, student associations, campus practices, and so on. It is said that the personal property of students in dormitories has been broken while stuffing them in bags, before being stored in laundry facilities and warehouses. I have rented a house, and I will be paying for rent and utilities for a house I do not live in almost until the next academic year. As a result of these unclear decisions, many of my friends are torn between moving out or keeping their homes. We will either continue paying rent for houses we do not live in or try to find new rentals with exorbitant prices in April.”

“Not everyone has the conditions suitable for online education in their home.”

As it was often discussed during the pandemic, Leyla also points out that not everyone has the means or conditions suitable for online education in their home, and provides personal examples:

“The talk about remote education, but not everyone has suitable conditions in their home for this, as is the case at our home. Eight of us live in a home with two rooms, five of them are students. The conditions are truly difficult. We are mentally exhausted. Like me, everyone was holding on to the possibility that the schools would be opened, but even that was taken from us with the latest announcement.”

“We are dealing with the worry of trying to recover our possessions from the dormitories, just when we were headed to join our family which was affected by the earthquake.”

Ozlem is a student at Cukurova University, and her family has been affected by the earthquake. They were in Antep when the earthquake happened. Ozlem, who stays in a KYK dormitory, says she quickly rushed to join her family. But when she reached Antep, she was told to quickly vacate the dormitory. Ozlem describes the difficulties she experienced:

“Immediately after the earthquake, we had to join our families; homes were destroyed, they were in ruins. Soon after arriving in Antep, news came that dormitories would be closed. We were asked to vacate our dormitories in two days. In that chaos, when we were afraid to enter our home and our families were residing in cars. Despite this, we had to take our possessions from our dormitories in two days. So I came back to Adana from Antep, to take my belongings. Our possessions in the rooms were placed in garbage bags and thrown outside. We searched for our possessions for approximately 3-4 hours. When I quickly returned to Antep, I learned that the schools were closed. I receive a KYK scholarship, and I could not support my family with it after it was in my bank account on the 7th, because all of it was spent on bus, taxi, and other transportation expenses as we traveled to recover our possessions. The schools are closing, but our family is already living in cars after the earthquake. Where will we stay, then? We cannot do anything but pose more of a burden for our families. The family says, ‘If your dormitory was open, you would have been more secure.’”

Ozlem describes how online education has affected her:

“We were all negatively affected by the earthquake. We could have gotten out of this psychological state by starting our daily routine. But we were imprisoned in our homes –which we cannot enter, anyway. Evicting thousands of students while people cannot enter their homes here was not a good situation for us. They talk of online education, but we have no equipment and from time to time no power or internet connection. At this point we don’t even have our books. I don’t know how we will access them. How will I participate in online education under these conditions, how will I gain anything from it…”

“We were barely able to pay the rent as it was; how will I find a new home in April.”

Mustafa, who is a student at Canakkale University, also has a family that has been affected by the earthquake. Because of the conditions in Antep, he had to find refuge with his cousins in Istanbul. Mustafa begins by saying that the online education decision does not make sense, and asks if alternative and more appropriate housing could not be arranged for earthquake victims, instead of dormitories. Mustafa describes his situation:

“I am a student in the School of Engineering; I have clearly seen the difference between distance learning and face-to-face education during the pandemic. We cannot reach our professors fully in online education, and we get apart from our friends. Now they say it could be hybrid, we shall see in April. I was staying in a house in Canakkale. Since they said it would be online education, we vacated the house. Our rent was 3,250 liras. When we vacated, our landlord increased the rent for the same place to 4,500 liras. If they tell us to return to our schools in the middle of the semester, how will I find a place, and even if I do, it will be two-three times what my budget allows. I don’t know how I will pay for that. We were barely able to pay the rent and the utilities where we lived, I do not know how we will be able to pay twice that amount if it goes to hybrid education; we don’t have the means. They are making us experience uncertainty; a decision should be made on whether education will be online, in person, or hybrid –hybrid education especially in April would create great difficulties for us.”

“Conditions are not suitable for online education; it causes psychological damage.”

Nergis, a student at Ankara University, reminds us of the difficulties they were made to suffer in the aftermath of the earthquake. She says that they were with their families during the holiday and had to rapidly go back to the dormitories to pick up their belongings: “I spent lots of money on taxis, buses, and other transportation; I know the torture of trying to make it back home with four suitcases in the middle of winter.”

Nergis describes the impact of the decision about online education on her:

“I am currently staying at my family’s home, with my father. My father is partially disabled and sick, so he cannot manage his affairs. So there are a lot of things that require my attention, such as cleaning, cooking, and obtaining wood, since the house is heated with a wood-burning heater. I cannot afford to spare any time for myself as it is. There isn’t much that I can do other than reading books or watching movies anyway, because I don’t have friends I can chat with here. During the pandemic I was a freshman, and it was very difficult to focus because of the constant disruptions in classes, which were mostly in the evening. Even though I am a hardworking person who care about my classes, I had so much more difficulty compared to in person education. I do not even remember what we learned during that time.

If I had to make a general assessment, I’d say that there were near-constant problems regarding the internet in each class. Until the problem was resolved, one got exasperated and it was not effective. We could not participate in the class because of lack of communication. We listened to our professor with our screens blacked out. One could rarely ask any questions. In addition to all the technical difficulties of online education in a country like Turkey, when I look at the psychological situation dictated by this situation, I can see that I experienced short and long-term problems because of it. The ability to go to campus and take classes with my friends had significant impact on my ability to convince myself that these problems were temporary, and stay motivated. Online education can only be a very short-term solution; perhaps a few weeks, or maybe a month, but I do not think it is going to work more than that. It should have been postponed, and if necessary, extended into the summer. It has a negative impact on the ability to compete, as well as determining whether success is genuine or not. Students pass classes by cheating, so many of them do not even attend the classes. Classes are held with a handful of people.”

“The university was also a place where we supported each other in solidarity, and they have taken it from us.”

Irem, who attends a private university in Istanbul says that she is lucky compared to her friends, but “they are meddling with the psychology of the students, and the quality of education that students receive:”

“Of course, I was not in a dormitory, and did not have to pick up my belongings in two days. My family rents, and I live with them. My friends are in a more difficult situation. The environment of the campus was important in terms of showing solidarity with our friends, too. We do not only get an education on campus, we also socialize, we make friends. We support each other. We can reach our professors and ask questions. Now, all these have been taken from us. I do not want education to be online. Universities had to be kept open even if it was only for supporting each other. The people who were discarded first were yet again college students, I am very upset.”

Editor’s note: Pseudonyms have been used and department information has been omitted in order to ensure the safety of the students.

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