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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Turkish girls in literacy battle
Rural schools in Turkey are striving to overcome local traditions and raise literacy standards among young girls, the BBC's Istanbul correspondent Jonny Dymond reports.

My Teacher's school
Hundreds more girls are now studying in schools
In Haran, a half hour's drive from the south eastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa, the pupils of "My Teacher's" school queue up in the crisp early morning sunlight, two neat columns of children under a Turkish flag.

Just inside the school, a bust of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, glowers down over the hall.

The school is new, the money to build it donated by local teachers. When more money arrives from Ankara, the dormitories will be equipped and children from far-flung villages will stay for the week.

The class faithfully recites the pledge heard every morning in every school across the country, dedicating themselves both to hard work and to the Republic. And then they rush into the building.

Power of persuasion

In amongst the small crowd is an even smaller girl. It sounds melodramatic, but 10-year-old Ida Goyhan has been saved - saved from a life of illiteracy and ignorance. In her English class she stares hard at her text book and does her best to repeat the phrases the young schoolteacher calls out.

We tell them it helps women get over their daily problems and daily practices
Bunyamin Durak,

She only started school last year. She came only once her parents had been persuaded to send her. Now, unlike her mother, she can read and write.

"I want to go to high school and then university," Ida says. "My parents want me to go as well. When they have the money they will send me. But when they don't, they can't."

As the bell goes for a short break, the pupils all rush out to play in the bare schoolyard. There the headmaster, Bunyamin Durak keeps order.

A big friendly man, he spends his spare time in the holidays visiting the villages around Haran trying to persuade parents to send their girls to school.

It is not, he says, poverty that stops them sending girls to school; government grants help pay for textbooks and clothing. Instead it is tradition.


For many of the local Arab and Kurdish population, a school is simply not a place that girls go to. The headmaster stresses the practical benefits of schooling, over any more lofty ideas of sexual equality.

Families picking cotton in southeast Turkey
Some families cannot break with tradition and girls stay in the fields
"We try to tell parents that schooling is very important," he says. "We also tell them that without it women cannot solve their daily problems.

"When they go to the doctors they cannot explain their pain, or when they go to a state building they cannot give a petition or explain what they want.

"We tell them it helps women get over their daily problems and daily practices."


In Haran, something like a miracle has occurred: two years ago, says the headmaster, there were just three girls in the schools; now there are over 700. It is partly a result of the work of men like Bunyamin Durak; and partly because of the national campaign run in conjunction with the United Nations agency Unicef.

Near Haran, Unicef is hard at work; an official has come down from Ankara to try and persuade parents to send their girls to school. It is gruelling work - at points, hard labour, as Unicef's Lila Pieters plunges into a cotton field to talk to a family working there.

She too stoops under the midday sun, helping pick cotton and stuffing the buds into a sack.

She finds out that, of the family working in the field, the boy goes to school in the morning, whilst the girl does not. She tries to persuade the children's uncle to send the girl to school as well.

Like the headmaster, she too stresses the practical aspects - maybe the girl could learn new agricultural techniques at school? The uncle is doubtful. Tradition dictates otherwise.

There has been television and radio advertising across Turkey for this campaign, and support from the prime minister and his wife. But real results seem to come this way, through face to face meetings and persuasion.

It will be a long haul before all girls go to school in this deeply conservative region. But there has been some astonishing success. And tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of girls are now going to school for the very first time.

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