The Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (CTCA) held an important workshop on 23 October 2022 with our member schools. We all agreed that we are at a time of great danger for the future of our schools and the Turkish education of our children.
Despite the heroic efforts of many volunteer staff and teachers, who give their time and energy to this noble cause freely, we are now facing widespread loss of locally based schools in London and beyond.
It is time to ring our alarm bells, and, as CTCA, to ask our parents, teachers, the business community, the Turkish Cypriot Republic of Cyprus (TRNC) and Evkaf to act quickly to help us protect our schools from extinction.
Over the years, tens of thousands of children have attended Supplementary Turkish Culture and Language schools. This has not only improved their command of the Turkish language, but they have also learnt the music, dance, poetry and the arts and crafts of their Turkish and Turkish Cypriot cultural heritage. This has helped instil a sense of identity, belonging, and love for their countries of heritage, North Cyprus and Turkiye.
Attaining success in Turkish at ‘GCSE’ and ‘A’ Levels has also helped many pupils gain places at colleges and universities. Above all, our Turkish schools have created a sense of confidence and cohesion for the Turkish speaking community of the UK.
Sadly, there has already been a year-on-year reduction of schools for some years and the COVID pandemic has made the situation much worse. When the face-to-face teaching stopped due to lockdown, schools tried their utmost to keep education going, albeit through a virtual experience, which cannot match a physical experience. However, it has been difficult for children and parents to kick-start face-to-face work at a real school after such a long time of absence.
The rental costs of school premises have risen sharply, making it very expensive for Turkish schools. Total costs of running each school can be in excess of £30,000 per annum. As a consequence, many of our community supplementary schools have run their budget reserves down to zero.
Teachers attending the CTCA workshop also complained bitterly about the delays in TRNC teachers arriving in the UK for the start of term, tell us, “We are now at the end of October, and not a single professional teacher has arrived from Cyprus. We can’t understand why, year after year, they can’t get their visas in time”.
What this means is that our schools can either not start teaching, or they have to try to find, with some difficulty, expensive local private Turkish teaching staff. Consequently, parents are losing their confidence in schools and they are withdrawing their children from Turkish education.
I already know of at least one school, which will have no choice but to shut its doors to its pupils for the last time very soon. We cannot afford to see the same happening to other schools. Our children are our future and we cannot take away this vital education, which links them to their roots.
Following our workshop, I call on parents to bring their children to our schools despite all the current difficulties, engage more with the school activities, and provide more support to Turkish school staff.
Our schools are constantly trying to improve, and there were some success stories told at the workshop.
Ülkü Demirel, a teacher with 25 years of experience, reported that they had abandoned their previous site and negotiated the use of a much better building nearby under better terms.
Promotion of school facilities have also been improved through the use of individual school video clips and this is attracting more parents and pupils.
The CTCA has agreed to work with schools to investigate current opportunities for external and other alternative sources of project funding. We need the entire community to get behind us, to help save our Turkish schools.
This article is by Fahri Zihni, President of the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations UK – the UK’s largest umbrella body for British Turkish Cypriots.