Distance of Distant Education

Mert Batur

It was announced that universities will offer distant education on March 23 due to the Covid 19 pandemic. This meant that contrary to the policies it has been following for years, YÖK (Higher Education Council) had to reach all students in a short space of time. When it became impossible to conduct lessons physically in educational institutions due to the scope of the contagion, distant education appeared in the government agenda.

The widespread practice of distant education brought about violations of rights. Due to the lack of infrastructure and academic staff, a technical and intellectual foundation for distant education could not be established in many universities. After the dormitories were shut down, the university students scattered all over the country. The question remains as to how the infrastructural problems or financial deficiencies in their family homes would affect the students’ right to education. As the distant education took off, it  became visible how the right to education and other rights were affected by this practice.

As the Civic Space Studies Association (Sivil Alan Araştırmaları Derneği), we interviewed students and  listened to their experiences in the current situation. The interviews with the students are in the next part of the article.

Public Universities: Education Distant from Campus and from the Right to Education

Following the launch of distant education, Marmara University (MU) opened its own  system where students can log in with their student numbers and personal passwords. We asked Yıldız* a student at the English prep class at MU, how this situation affected the course contents: “Normally you get education in the preparation class for listening, writing, speaking and reading. So, for example, after you pass the preparation, you should both be able to follow the lessons in English and to speak and write. For this, it is necessary to interact with the teacher.“ says Yıldız and adds: “What we do now is similar to the video courses taken from the internet before.” This process seems to make learning difficult both in terms of technical inabilities and course contents. “When I say interaction, I do not mean roughly any communication,” says Yıldız. “Being a university student shouldn’t be like this, especially for students who were in their first year like me. Campus, class, friendship… for example, I was expecting an environment where I can practice in preparation. They said the preparation would be like being in senior highschool. The current situation feels like we are getting ready for graduation exams again.”

With the Covid-19 pandemic, we began to discuss public rights and the right to education again. What the university means as a public space is also better understood in this period. Universities gain importance not only as institutions where technical information is provided to students, but also as places where students socialize, devise means of expression and develop intellectually. 

Kağan, a student at the Istanbul University, Faculty of Law, explains what it means to get education on campus with a striking example: “When we talked about distant education, we were expecting a video at least. Perhaps you have seen on Twitter, an academic from our university has brought a brand new perspective on the issue of distant education. In the note they uploaded to the school system, they write which subjects on which pages will be considered finished that week. There is no lecturing, no video, not even any instructions. Just page numbers…” Thus, they add this reverses the criticism they have been receiving as law students for years: “They used to tell us that as law students we don’t go to class, we read books and pass exams, we work from notes. Now that only page numbers are shared as distant education, then it means that we would have been right to do so.”

Kağan says they dreamed of studying law at Istanbul University for many years, and explains how he was affected by the distant education: “Law is not simply a field to read, think, work alone and take exams. It is necessary to follow the current developments, to make philosophical discussions. Otherwise, you can not think of justice at home. Of course you could think of it but… you know, Istanbul University teaches people a lot in terms of practice.” Kağan laughs and explains what he means to those who do not know: “For example, you know, when the police detains you at a protest, what do you do, what would you get charged with, how do you defend yourself according to the Criminal Procedure Law (CMK)… Istanbul University is a productive place in terms of law and justice at an education level, now we are deprived of this. ”

Foundation Universities: Education Away from Equality and Opportunities

Distant education causes debates in terms of equality as well as in terms of the right to education and the right to a campus (which is another manifestation of the right to the city). In order to participate in distant education processes, you must have a device which you can connect to the internet with and watch videos on. You must also have a constant internet connection. You need to have sufficient financial means to provide them as well. With the economic crisis, how does distant education affect students? We asked  Eylem from Özyeğin University: “I am on a hundred percent scholarship program. I work at the same time. I pay my rent, my bills and everything else. I have a computer, but it is an old device. Sometimes it works, sometimes it freezes. The internet connection at home is not suitable for watching videos. Before I came to my family’s home, no one was using the internet properly. We wanted to make the internet better the other day . It would cost at least 300 liras if we need to replace the cables. Let’s start thinking about distant education from here.” So what would be the rent of the student house where Eylem stayed before? “Two of my friends are still staying at that home. They are trying to pay the rent, and I send money as much as I can. We are discussing whether we will be able to pay the rent this month at all…” We ask Eylem if they will use the right to freeze the enrollment announced for the students who can not continue with distant education: “Could there be such a right to freeze the enrollment? It prevents one from the right to education. I can not freeze, frankly, I am not in a condition to stay at the university for another term. I am sure that many people think so. But for example, there are students who will freeze their enrollment at our school. They say: we pay a lot of money to the school, what is the point if we are going to study online? Why should we pay so much money if we cannot benefit from the university’s facilities? They are right too. ”

A small campaign: No Other Way? (Is there any other way?)

While we were preparing this article, students of Karabuk University made another request on social media. Students suspect that distant education and the exams to be held at the end of this process may create inequality and will not be sufficient for assessment and evaluation. They think that homework should be given to students and these homeworks should be evaluated. They proposed a solution for how the exams will be held at the end of the distant education. We do not know if the university administration accepted their proposal or not. However, this suggestion shows us that a transparent and democratic construction of this process with students and all university components will have more productive results. 

While the health workers are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, students are struggling with the question of  how to protect and improve all their rights, especially the right to education.We hope that a period of recovery is waiting for all of  us. 

With solidarity…

*Names are changed to protect the anonymity of students