Turkey’s gender gap in education on the rise (AA, 26 March 2015)

By Tuncay Kayaoğlu, AA, 26 March 2015.

With girls both outperforming boys in college entrance exams and university enrolment, AA looks at the reasons driving this new gender gap in Turkey.

New university entrance exam results showing Turkish girls overtaking male students reveal a push for “economic independence” according to experts.

Turkish girls’ superior performance also shows their evolving expectations in life, education specialists are claiming.

Nationwide results released earlier this month show that 72 percent of girls scored the 180 points needed to apply for the second round of Turkey’s national university entrance exam.

However, only 66 percent of boys made the grade according to the government-run Measurement, Selection and Placement Center.

Another benchmark confirms the trend: 92% of girls scored 140 points or higher while only 87 percent of boys did. Scoring between 140 and 180 makes a student eligible for two-year education programs and third-level distance learning.

Not only are girls outscoring boys in tests, they are also enrolling into universities in higher numbers.

Turkish Higher Education Council data for 16-21-year-olds’ tertiary attainment shows a gender gap; there are 760,300 female university students compared to 689,908 male students in Turkey.

This gender gap does not surprise experts. Yalin Kaya, the head of Guidance and Psychological Counseling Department at Istanbul-based Oguzkaan College, says that girls started to show better performance in university exams from the end of the 1990s.

For Kaya, girls’ superior results stem from their evolving expectations in life and discrepancies in access to jobs.

“Men that could not enroll in university education can still find a job, whether it be as a driver or a petrol attendant. But for girls, if they fail at the exam, they have to find a rich husband,” Kaya says, adding that a university education paves the way to economic independence for Turkish women.

Kaya says girls increasingly put their professional carrier ahead of raising a family.

When Kaya asks female students what they think about the catchy phrase – “I can raise a child and have a career at the same time” – frequently they reply that they want to have a professional life first and raise a family later, pointing to changing times in what many consider a conservative country.

Bekir Gur, an assistant professor at Ankara-based Yildirim Beyazit University’s literature department and currently a visiting scholar in education at the University of California, agrees with Kaya.

“I believe girls try hard to have a university degree so that they can find better job opportunities,” Gur says.

However, he notes an issue about graduation rates; girls’ overall numbers in formal education decrease over the years sometimes because families cannot afford tuition or girls are withdrawn due to even temporary lapses in academic performance.

Paradoxically “that means successful girls continue their formal education and this makes boys face a homogeneous group of smart girls” who survived the attrition rate in the formal education process, he claims.

Boys and girls have different views of school. A 2012 survey in an Ankara high school showed that boys tend to see the classroom as a place of repression while girls see it freedom, probably reflecting conservative family values and how boys and girls may contrast their experiences differently at home and at school.

The gender gap in education seems to be a global trend. A recent report published by the OECD shows that 34 percent of women across member countries had a tertiary education compared with 30 percent of men in 2012.

In the same year, on average, 54 percent of graduates from upper secondary general programmes were women and 43 percent were men of that age group.

The 34-member organization also shows that, overall, girls hold more ambitious educational and occupational expectations than boys.

Yalin Kaya, the guidance counselor, emphasizes that girls are going to show even better performances at school in coming years.

It seems that officials will have to develop new policies to encourage boys to take school more seriously.


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