Our second week of ‘Tell me a Tale in Turkey’ continued at Ortaca Coşku Özel Eğitim Okul. One of the things I had wanted to do this week was to visit the government special needs school in Muğla. Unfortunately it was still closed for the summer (even though it was supposed to open last week) and therefore I was unable to go. What I was able to learn however was that it is a school for children with mild/severe learning difficulties but it does not cater for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). This means that a child with profound and multiple learning difficulties does not have access to a free education for more than 12 hours a month in the Muğla region of Turkey. I am unable to comment on what facilities there are in other regions in Turkey but as my travels continue I would like to find out. When I moved to Australia and started working in the special schools there I was told that they were at least ’10 years’ behind the UK special education system. What I know now is that Turkey is trailing far far further behind. One of the PMLD students we worked with at the school (his parents pay so that he can attend school 3 full days a week) developed so fast and all the teachers were surprised at how well he was able to engage in our work. There is still a strong mentality of ‘but what’s the point of them coming to school if they are TOO disabled, what can they learn?’ in Turkey. As individuals we are all unique and every child should have the right to an education no matter how ‘able’ they are. In Turkey there is currently a high number of graduate teachers unable to find work. It is therefore prime time for the government to utilise these trained professionals. Families who have children with special needs are given good financial support by the government and if people’s attitude towards special needs education change then more of this money can be put towards schooling children.
In our drama workshops this week we focused on the performance of ‘MEVSIMLER’ (Seasons) which we had developed with the students the previous week. Once again we worked with many students who we hadn’t met before but some faces were becoming more familiar. Most of all we focused on using drama to learn about the seasons whilst having lots of fun off course!
Head teacher of the school, Eylem Tan, said (translated from Turkish);
‘Drama helps our students learn new information in a different way. We saw this in the project you took part in 3 years ago. Our students found it easier to learn and they retained what they had learnt for a longer period of time. This time through doing and feeling they have learnt what hot, cold, wind and sun are. Drama education is therefore very important for our students.’
The performance itself was held in Ortaca in an outdoor cafe area and there was a small amphitheatre that we used as the stage. The advantage of having the performance outside was so that passers by could pause and watch. In Turkey people with special needs are often hidden from the community and rarely leave the house. By having the performance outdoors we hoped to give the students and their parents the opportunity to feel included in the community of Ortaca as well as break down the social barriers and prejudices that people have about disabilities. Twenty students took part in the performance (about a quarter of all the students that we worked with)- some were confident, others withdrew, but all in all everyone looked like they were having a good time. At the end of the performance we gave out certificates to all the students who took part and this is when all the performers seemed to truly come out of their shells and proudly accept their certificates. Hicran Kilinç, a teacher at the school said (translated from Turkish);
‘Many families here think that their child can not do what “normal” children are able to do, they think that “my child can never be like them, my child isn’t normal”. By doing this performance we are were able to show parents that their child is able to do the same things as every other child. Last night, during the performance, we saw that many families were crying. Why? Because we broke down their beliefs. We showed them that their child could do things they thought they were unable to do. When parents saw this they cried from happiness…. Parents also often see their other children or other families children in a lot of performances in mainstream schools and do not think that their child in a special school can do the same.
For the children- they gained a great deal of confidence by standing up in front of so many new people. These are children who do not normally go out into the community and they stood up in front of so many different people and acted out the performance.’
From these comments alone it is clear to see how many misconceptions there are about special needs, even from within families. What the school is doing is constantly trying to break down these barriers but this too is difficult when disability in Turkey is so misunderstood- by individuals, families, schools and the government. In the UK there are countless charities campaigning for human rights, equality and justice for people with disabilities- where as in Turkey there is just a handful of these organisations and they are all in the major cities. I don’t feel like I can come to a conclusion on this subject as the issue is so vast but I do feel like I am getting a better insight into people’s thoughts and judgements.
Our time in Ortaca has now come to an end. As well as the students we hope that the teachers have had a good time and have taken away some new ideas to use in class. Our volunteer Gizem Yılmaz has returned to her studies in Istanbul and I’m off to Alanya to work with a new volunteer at another special school.