Rural Schools Transformation Network (Köy Okulları Değişim Ağı-KODA) received a grant from our Donor Advised Fund in 2020, to organise the activities of the Teacher Communities Program in Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa. KODA’s goal with this program is to improve the quality of rural education by increasing the professional motivation of teachers in rural schools and advancing their social-emotional skills.
Read below our interview with KODA:
You have recently completed the activities of the Teacher Communities Program. We know that you had to make various changes in the project due to the pandemic. Can you tell us about the purpose of the work you have done after these changes?
We planned to continue the Teacher Communities Program in the 2020-2021 school year with at least 300 teachers from 10 regions. Due to the pandemic, we organised online teacher gatherings based on the themes of professional and personal development, artistic skills, and experience-sharing, for rural school teachers across Turkey. 889 teachers participated in the 29 online meetings, 27 of the teachers were from Diyarbakir, and 17 were from Sanliurfa-Birecik.
Online and face-to-face meetings, orientation camps and joint activities with the Provincial Directorates of National Education were among our program activities. However; due to the pandemic, we have decided to continue online and added another activity to the program. The Basic Education Program, which was a 44-hour online training, focused on the themes that rural school teachers mainly needed. It also included theoretical and practical information and in-class best practices. 101 teachers participated in this program. In addition, we organised another session for the teachers who have previously attended the “Trainers Training on Developing the Professional Capacities of Rural School Teachers Working in Multi-graded Classrooms” that was in collaboration with the Ministry of National Education General Directorate of Teacher Training and Development. 60 teachers attended this session.
We continue with the belief that rural schools, which are often on the agenda with their deprivation, can offer great opportunities for the education in our dreams.
We know that while determining the content of the online teacher gatherings you have taken into consideration not only the needs of the teachers but also the local needs. Can you share the reason for this approach?
Unfortunately, when we compare the educational opportunities in rural and urban areas in Turkey, it is still not possible to say that equal opportunities have been achieved. In the 2023 Education Vision prepared by the Ministry of National Education, we see that ensuring this equality of opportunity is one of the priority targets. Our main focus is to realise an innovative educational approach in rural areas that will spread throughout the community, starting with children, and to support rural development. In line with this goal, we work with different stakeholders such as teachers, families, and volunteers.
Some factors reducing the quality of education in rural areas are the problems with teachers, families, poverty and living conditions, and problems related to the planning of formal education. But there are also opportunities for more holistic and qualified education: classes with fewer students, physical proximity between school-family-village, being located in nature, the fact that it is easier for teachers and villagers to take initiative about education. Therefore, the way to improve the quality of education is not only to deal with the problems but also to make the most of these opportunities. For this reason, we take great care to carry out the Teacher Communities Program implemented in cooperation with the Support Foundation for Civil Society (Sivil Toplum için Destek Vakfı-STDV) and the Turkey Mozaik Foundation, by focusing on the needs and opportunities of the local context in rural areas.
We attach great importance to hearing the teachers’ comments and suggestions and take into consideration both their needs and the needs of the communities in which we operate regionally. We gathered feedback via surveys and evaluation meetings, and also reached out to rural school teachers through the Directorates of National Education. Some of the online meeting topics we have specified in line with this feedback were as follows: Holistic Learning from a Pedagogical Perspective, Music and Movement Education in Teaching, Art in Every Field, Improvising With Creative Drama Method, Children in the Pandemic, Permaculture and a Restorative Life with Orman6, Theatre in Education, Students with Special Needs, Teacher’s Role in Rural Development, Digital Literacy and Digital Material Production, Nature Awareness and Learning in Nature, etc.
In all our activities, we centralise the needs of the child and the adults who accompany the child on her/his educational journey.
After a long break, face-to-face education in Turkey resumed in September 2021. How did this transition take place in rural schools? Can you talk about the changing needs of the teachers and schools you work with and the work you have done to satisfy those needs?
Teachers were eagerly awaiting the start of face-to-face education. During the pandemic, many teachers continued to go to their students in the village and support them with their homework, even though from a distance. With the opening of the schools, a rapid adaptation process took place for teachers and students.
Returning to face-to-face activities was very exciting for us too. Online activities enabled us to reach more teachers from different regions, and we will continue by updating their content. However, face-to-face activities have their advantages. In the 2021-2022 school year, we combine these two methods and work with 16 communities both online and face-to-face. When the teachers have started to gather in their local areas, we saw that hearing each other, witnessing that they share the same problems and thinking together for solutions met a great need in the transition and even in improving the quality of rural education.
How has our grant support contributed to your organisation and your work? Do you have a message you would like to share with our donors who supported the Fund?
With the support of STDV and the Turkey Mozaik Foundation, this year, we have completed the 4th year of the Teacher Communities Program. The continuation of the program, its positive impact on the teachers and its sustainable dissemination enable us to take firm steps forward as an important actor in the field of education in rural areas. We develop new programs to improve the educational journey of a child living in rural areas. Similarly, in our programs developed with different stakeholders, we aim to focus mostly on the regions where our teacher communities are formed and to empower adults in the ecosystem of the child. We would like to thank our donors for supporting us as we reach our goal.
“As a teacher working in a rural school, I once again realised how self-sacrificing and sacred our work is. At the end of the meeting, I felt very happy as a child on a swing in the sky.” (Teacher from Sanliurfa)
What will be the areas and activities that KODA aims to prioritise in 2022? Can you tell us about the future plans of your association?
As of August 2021, we entered an extremely exciting period. Last year we bought 5 acres of land in Orhaneli, Bursa, and opened a temporary office. We aim to operate the “Education in the Countryside and Research & Development (R&D) Centre” on this land and to organise all our central trainer’s trainings and meetings on this campus, which will have an accommodation area for 50 people, training halls, and outdoor learning areas. We dream of a centre that is compatible with the cultural and historical fabric of Orhaneli, ecological, and with its design, will make an impact not only in Turkey but also in the international arena. As KODA, we are working to find our change leaders who will support our project. If everything goes well, we hope to lay the foundation of the construction before the end of this school year.
For the next year, we have increased the number of our teacher communities, both face-to-face and online, to 16. We have created a new structure within the Teacher Communities Program so that the teachers in the regions can assume more responsibility and take initiative. This way, we think that we can increase the number of our communities more easily in the coming years.
With the First Step to the Village Program, we prepare candidate teachers to work in rural schools. The graduates of this program enable us to reach out to more students in faculties of education and raise awareness. We started to work with 10 faculties of education, and have moved some parts of the program content to a format that can be implemented by academicians independently from KODA. In addition, we are making the first trials of the My First Year in the Village Program, which consists of four sessions for newly appointed rural teachers.
“Every time we attended a training, we felt excited and happy as if we were going to have a conversation with friends of 40 years.” (Teacher from Hatay)
We aim to provide face-to-face mentoring in 3 villages in Bursa, Orhaneli and to create best practices from these villages, on the other hand, with the Rural Teachers Hand-in-Hand (Mentoring) Program, we offer online mentoring support to newly appointed rural teachers. In addition, 20 teachers who have previously completed KODA’s Basic Education Program, started the 2 years long Learning Journeys Program, at the end of which, 10 teachers will be trainers of pedagogy and learning, and 10 will be trainers of music and movement. We will continue the Basic Education Program next summer, and offer training with the Association for the Development of Early Childhood Education in Turkey to preschool teachers too.
Another goal of ours is to improve our programs for families and volunteers, who play an important role in increasing the quality of rural education. While continuing distance family trainings, we started the pilot implementation of face-to-face family trainings (Family Studies Program). We continue our efforts to form new volunteer communities that can work both locally and remotely (Volunteer Communities and Local Volunteer Communities). Also, we are planning to put into practice the Social Network Between Stakeholders, with which we aim for all our stakeholders, especially teachers and volunteers, to reach information more easily and quickly, and establish relationships with each other.
To measure the social impact of all our educational activities more systematically, together with the Koc University Social Impact Forum, we will establish a social impact management system. In this way, we want to have an infrastructure where we can check ourselves on whether our work creates the maximum social impact or not.
On December 5, 2021, we celebrated our 5th year. We would like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to grow with big steps and to make our dreams bigger, by keeping our purpose and values alive in 5 years! As long as we are together, we firmly believe that in the next 5 years we can write a story of change for the children living in rural areas of Turkey. Now, another exciting academic year, in which our goals and dreams have grown enormously is awaiting us.
KODA works to increase the quality of rural education in Turkey by providing support to teachers and students. The Teacher Communities Program aims to increase solidarity between rural school teachers, to provide them with a space where they can learn from each other, and to help them understand their needs for professional and personal development.