Teacher’ protest held in Ankara in June this year. (Credit: An anonymous teacher who attended the protest. )

Thousands of education graduates in Turkey face an uncertain future after the country’s education ministry announced fewer new positions for teachers than expected.

In March 2021, the education ministry created a total of 20,000 new posts for teachers at all school levels, as opposed to 440,000 in 2020. Would-be teachers must take the Public Personnel Selection Examination (KPSS) before applying for jobs under the quota scheme.

This year’s quota is the lowest level in the 17 years that the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has held power. After the quota was announced, some prospective teachers held a protest in the Turkish capital Ankara, while others criticised the decision on social media.

In response to the outcry, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that an additional 15,000 vacancies would be made available in September. However, these additional slots are available to candidates who took the exam in either 2020 or 2021.

“School began on 6 September, but many students don’t have a teacher yet,” Musa Akkaş, Secretary of the Turkish Education Union, told Inside Turkey. “Many teachers were not able to start work in their schools of choice because of late appointments.” 

Cuma Eroğlu (on the right) attending the protest in Ankara in June 2021. (Credit: Personal archive)

For the extra 15,000 places, appointments will be made in January 2022, but the government has not yet announced a start date for these teachers. According to Akkaş, “40,000 extra appointments should have been planned for 2021 candidates alone. According to statistics from the governor’s offices of 81 provinces, the education ministry has a shortage of around 150,000 teachers.” 

Akkaş said that the shortage was at its most severe in Istanbul. “This point alone shows why 20,000 and 15,000 extra appointments is not enough. İstanbul has a shortage of 30,000 teachers. In addition to this, 30,000 teachers retired last year.”

According to education ministry statistics, 1,117,686 teachers were working in primary and secondary schools during the 2019-2020 academic year. However, in 2020-2021, this number dropped to 1,112,305.

In August 2020, former education minister Ziya Selçuk suggested that overly high salaries were the cause of the problem. “Because of teachers’ salaries, there is no opportunity for investment. If the salaries remain stagnant, there will probably not be any big reductions in our expenses,” said the minister. In Turkey, currently teachers’ average salaries are around 4,000-4,500 Turkish Liras a month. 

Fewer than 5,381 teachers were appointed in 2021, despite a 17% increase in the education ministry’s budget since 2020, to 147 billion liras. 

Akkaş said that around 69,000 teachers were employed as temporary substitutes in the 2020-21 academic year. Substitute teachers are paid by the hour. Their wages average between 500 and 2,000 liras a month. In Turkey, the official minimum wage is 2,825 liras a month.

Akkaş suggested that university education departments should limit their student numbers, to help deal with the bottleneck. Currently, 60,000 students graduate from education departments each year.

“Cemre”, 32, is a qualified IT teacher who has spent the last two years trying to find a job. “There are still schools that do not have IT teachers. Those schools also try to close this gap with substitute teachers. We are not appointed despite high scores on the KPSS, even though there is a need. My family tells me to ‘go find a job’, we have been in a psychological war for months,” she said.

This year’s quota only included 50 slots for IT teachers among the 20,000 places. An additional 51 positions were then announced in September. “They should give us 800-900 slots for people like me to get appointed. If a quota of a thousand is given, I would say that I would definitely be appointed” she said.

“How many more years will we be victims of the system?” said Cemre, adding that she was worried about her future prospects. “Although we want to work in every part of the country, when will we be on duty? In how many years will we start a family? What will we do next?”

Cemre withheld her real name for this report, because of a security law passed in April 2021 that applies to public employees. Prospective teachers have to pass a ‘personnel security investigation’ as part of the process of becoming appointed as a teacher. She was afraid her name would be flagged during this process.

Other teachers reported similar concerns. Cuma Eroğlu, 28, took the KPSS in 2020 and is also still looking for a job. He said that although he scored 81 percent on the exam, he could not get a position due to the quota shortage. Geography teacher candidate Eroğlu, who lives in İzmir, said that he is now looking for a job other than teaching. 

Cuma Eroğlu, 28, before taking the KPSS in 2020. (Credit: Personal archive)

“I’m tired! I just came from an interview for a warehouse employee position. I can’t count how many job applications I’ve made. I try to help my father at his job, he is a junk man. But I’ve been on bad terms with my dad lately. He doesn’t understand that it’s not my fault I can’t get appointed, he doesn’t accept that the system is the problem. I worked in a grocery store for 6 months for minimum wage. Some clients who knew that I was a teacher used to be embarrassed to hand me tips, so they used to give the cash to my boss,” he said.

Eroğlu said that he came 350th in his subject in the 2020 KPSS, but that the quota for geography teachers was just 219 places. Another 185 slots were opened in the extra appointment period, but they are available to candidates who took the KPSS exam in both 2020 and 2021.

Musa Akkaş, Secretary of the Turkish Education Union. (Credit: Personal archive)

“If the extra appointments were not mixed [between the two years], I might have been appointed. Because 219 candidates were appointed ahead of me. Thanks to this, my place in line became 131st out of the 185 extra slots and I thought that I would be appointed. However, when the extra appointments were declared mixed, I was let down again,” he said.

Eroğlu believes this mixed appointment policy is illegal, as it was banned in 2019 by a Presidential decree. He and hundreds of other candidate teachers have launched court action to stop the practice, claiming that two different exams and sets of exam takers cannot be evaluated in one appointment.

If the court finds in their favour, 15,000 appointments may be halted, with the positions made available to 2020 candidates only. This would enable those currently excluded to find jobs. 

Turkey’s education ministry did not respond to a request for comment.