Giving a Grade to YÖK’s Covid-19 Response: FF on Online Education and Exams

by Mert Batur

Following the first case of Covid-19 in Turkey, the government announced that instruction in universities will halt for 3 months starting with March 16. On March 23rd, another announcement stated that the instruction will continue online until further notice. In the last 3 months, students have experienced many rights violations. As students were graded online for their finals, we will grade Council of higher Education (YÖK) online in this article.

Communication and Social Interaction
Grade: FF

When the students learned that the university instruction would stop for three weeks, the first thing they wondered was whether the dorms would remain open. YÖK and the university administrations chose to remain silent regarding the question. Meanwhile, some of the students rushed to bus terminals to return to their family houses. The anxiety increased as crowds emerged at the bus terminals during the contagion. 

The dorms were kept open for a while, for those who could not/would not return to their family home or have no place to stay. Yet shortly after, the government decided to turn the dorms into quarantine spaces for citizens returning from abroad. Students were forced to leave the dorms within a few hours following the decision, regardless of whether they can afford to leave or not. 

As far as the students were concerned, their instruction was to stop only for three weeks, therefore many left their belongings at their dorm rooms, while some did not have the chance to pack in hurry. Yet after the second decision, to continue education online, the students were told that their belongings will be thrown away or be left elsewhere. As the students could not take their class materials with them, the online education became even more challenging. 

All these situations have unfolded as YÖK and university administrations did not provide a smooth information flow. Therefore we grade YÖK and university administrations FF since their lack of “communication and social interaction” skills led to irrevocable rights violations. (Of course university students are not graded for these skills, but primary school students used to be, do you remember?)  

Information Technologies
Grade: DD

Distant [online] education meant that the classes are conducted online and/or the class contents will only be available online, requiring access to online platforms. Yet due to YÖK’s own criteria, distant education was applied in a very limited manner. Thus, many universities did not have the necessary infrastructure or know how to conduct instruction online.  

How the online classes will be carried out remained uncertain due to technical inadequacy and lack of infrastructure. Some of the faculty staff uploaded only the class notes online. Other methods were uploads of video recordings of class or suggestions for extra readings to complement the class content. However, it was obvious that these methods would prove inefficient for students and that is what happened. Some of the students could not attend the online classes as they did not have the infrastructure. As the recordings of the online classes were not uploaded to university sites in many universities, the students could not follow the classes later when they could not attend them.

There were several factors preventing the distant education from efficiently working, many students did not have access to adequate internet connection or devices (tablets, smartphones, laptops). The government had announced that the students would be given a certain amount of internet connection in order to attend their classes was insufficient and many students were not able to enjoy this means. Many of the students’ rights, especially the right to education and the principle of equality, were denied. However, considering that there were some efforts to improve the technical means (internet packages, access to devices in public institutions), our grade regarding IT is DD.

Administrative Law 101 
Grade: FF

Following the launch of online education, YÖK published a set of principles for online exams. According to these, the decisions regarding the exams would be in effect only during the contagion and the students would be offered alternative solutions. According to YÖK’s statement, the online exams would be conducted as open ended or multiple choice online exams, assignments, short essay exams, projects or online applications offered by YÖK, to be carried out with or without digital surveillance.

Yet the students faced troubles in the exam period as well. Due to malfunctions in the online exam system, some students were not able to access the exam, and the technical inadequacies led to many rights violations. Although these problems could be alleviated in time, a major problem arose when the students were assumed to be prone to cheat and certain precautions were implemented based on this bias. With measures such as surveillance of students with webcams and mics, use of software to detect the student rooms and in certain cases even their eye pupils, the students’ right to privacy was violated. These measures were in violation of the Law on Protection of Personal Data. In some universities the measures were revoked thanks to the students’ protests, in others they continue to be implemented. 

Another measure was the rearrangement of the exams’ duration. The students were often given a short amount of time in relation to the length of the questions. The purpose of this arrangement was said to prevent students from cheating. Similarly, there was the practice of not allowing the students to go back to a previous question to prevent cheating. The students were not informed of this until they tried to return  to a previous question. Such measures barred students from being evaluated in an equal and fair manner. 

Although it was possible to evaluate students with an assignment or through a pass/fail grading system, most of the universities chose to evaluate students through open ended questioned exams online. This led to students organizing social media campaigns. These online protests continue, some have led to achievements. Students were not allowed to voice their demands in this period and they certainly do not want to be treated as cheaters.   

As such, it is not possible to let YÖK and universities pass on the course, Administrative Law 101, which includes public administration and public institutions’ relations with people. Due to their unlawful regulations, lack of trust towards the students and the rights violations, we grade them FF. 

We grade all students who struggled for their rights under Covid-19 pandemic AA, continue the fight!