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Turkish gov’t slammed for switch to remote learning to free up dorms for quake victims

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have come under fire for a recent decision to shift to online education at universities in order to allocate the state-run Higher Education Credit and Hostels Institution (KYK) dormitories to earthquake victims.

A 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck near the city of Gaziantep as people slept on Feb. 6, was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

According to the latest official figures, the quakes have killed 29,605 people and injured more than 80,000 across the 10 hardest-hit southeastern provinces.

Erdoğan on Saturday announced that remote education would be started in universities and that 800 KYK dormitories across the country with the capacity to house 825,000 people would be opened to earthquake victims.

Opposition politicians, academics, psychologists and nongovernmental organizations have criticized the decision, emphasizing its negative consequences for the students and calling on the government to reconsider and think of alternative solutions.

Leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who on Sunday held his party’s Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting in Hatay, one of the provinces devastated by the earthquakes, accused the AKP of failing to understand the importance of education.

“What do you want from university students? … They were away from [in-person learning] for a long time during the pandemic. … Those dormitories aren’t suitable for earthquake-affected families,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, urging the government to host the earthquake victims in hotels and cover all their expenses.

The CHP leader also said in a tweet that he is “ready” to open his own home, CHP headquarters and other party venues to the earthquake victims so that university students can continue to take in-person classes.

İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener spoke to the press about the issue, saying it was “very wrong” to put earthquake-affected families in KYK dormitories since it would infringe on their privacy.

“It’s possible to host these [people] in our homes, empty houses and hotels. Our people are ready to do this. At the same time, our state is great enough to pay the rent for [those who stay in] these hotels and empty houses,” Akşener added.

“Clearing out the dormitories is wrong. … The effects of the pandemic haven’t even been overcome yet. Don’t take away a generation’s right to education,” Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader Ali Babacan tweeted.

Homeland Party (MP) leader Muharrem İnce also said switching universities to remote education in order to use dormitories without filling up empty houses, hotels, public camps and guesthouses was the “wrong order of action.”

Jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), on Saturday urged Erdoğan in a tweet posted through his lawyers to evacuate his palace in Ankara’s Beştepe neighborhood, which has more than a thousand rooms, instead of dormitories, since halting in-person learning at the universities would only “create new victims.”

“As a university lecturer, I ask the authorities. It’s a wrong decision for universities to switch to remote education. Please. Reconsider this decision,” economist Özgür Demirtaş said in a tweet.

Beyhan Budak, a well-known psychologist and writer, also said the government needs to review the decision since switching to remote education, while the psychological effects caused by the pandemic haven’t yet disappeared, can “seriously damage the mental health and education of our youth.”

The Association for the Support of Contemporary Living (ÇYDD), an İstanbul-based NGO with over a hundred branch offices nationwide, reacted against the decision to empty KYK dormitories in a written statement published on its website and titled “We shouldn’t open new wounds.”

“Opening up student dormitories can’t be the first choice … while there are … hotels, guesthouses, teacher’s houses … [and] while many of our citizens have opened their homes to our earthquake victims!” the association said, adding that restricting education in such disasters is “very dangerous” for Turkey’s future.

Meanwhile, photos widely shared on social media over the weekend showed that clothes and other personal belongings in dormitories across the country were collected in garbage bags and left outside students’ rooms while they were away visiting their families.

 

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