martes, 19 de mayo de 2015

Reading and Turkish Adolescents

In this entry we travel from Mexico to Turkey!

We are very pleased to have a guest blogger, Osman Coban, writing about reading in his country and specifically about the reading choices of Turkish adolescents. We think that readers will find it illuminating to compare what is happening in this area in different places around the world. In particular, it is interesting to consider Turkey alongside Mexico, given that they are both considered to be part of the “MINT” emerging economies group (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). However, while it may be true that they are on an upward economic turn, we must not forget that the increasing wealth and advantages do not benefit all the population and that there are still many serious problems and unresolved conflicts in all these countries which affect education and reading, as Osman reminds us in the text below.

Osman is doing his PhD on this topic, at the University of Glasgow, funded by a scholarship from the Turkish Government. Last year he was successful in obtaining one of the IBBY-UK bursaries to attend and present a poster at the IBBY International Congress in Mexico. At the moment, he is “in the field”, collecting data through a variety of methods, working with young people in schools. We are grateful that he managed to find some time to write this blog for us.  

During my primary and middle school term [1975-1985], there was political chaos. There were political events all over the country and if the parents were involved, they used to try to get their children to read political books that were written by the ideological group they agreed with. I was one of the victims of this. I was forced to read some of these books and as a result I was scared of books in my childhood. I had been given some very difficult books to read and to explain but I did not understand anything from the books that I had been reading. Imagine a book about 500  pages long with political terms (...) in front of a child who is in fifth year of primary (...) I hated books (...) I loved reading after I became a teacher. I would read children’s books to the children. I met children’s books after I became a teacher, I didn’t read children’s books when I was a child. After that I loved reading books.

I believe that this Head teacher’s memories about reading represent a brief summary of reading history in Turkey in the second half of the 20th century. Between 1950 and 1990, politics had a significant effect on young readers’ reading habits and choices. In addition, there were only a handful of authors who wrote for children and young people and few translations of children’s and young adult (YA) texts from other countries. The didactic attitude of the authors was a key factor in the construction of these stories.

At the beginning of the 21st century, although the overall literacy rate in Turkey was high (92.9%), only 4% of the population said they read books as part of their daily life. Poverty and conflict have been the other reasons for this low reading rate. Almost half the children in Turkey have to work as well as going to school. In the eastern region of Turkey there has been conflict since 1990, due to a complex political and ethnic situation and Kurdish children in particular have been living under difficult conditions (Robinson, 2010; Yegen, 2006). In addition to household chores, the many of them also have to work as farm labourers during the summer term in different parts of the country. In addition, nearly half the workers in Turkey earn the minimum wage: 949 TL (approximately 360USD) (CSGB, 2015; Sabah, 2012 and it is almost impossible spend any of this money on books because this money is hardly enough for the basic needs of a family. Another reason is the high price of books, as Isfendiyar, who is 17 years old and one of the students in my project, explained.

 So far I have mentioned some of the complex issues related to the Turkish context which have had a negative impact on the reading habits of young readers. However, on the positive side, since 2003 there have been several local and national reading campaigns which have resulted in a noticeable increase in the reading rate of young readers. The Turkish Ministry of Education prepared a list of ‘100 Basic Works’ in 2005 for primary and secondary level to be read before the end of students’ school period (Cotukkesen, 2007). Former president Abdullah Gul and his wife Hayrunnisa Gul launched the ‘Turkey is reading’ campaign in 2008 which promoted reading awareness at a national level through a number of reading events. In schools, every day had to start with 10 minutes of reading. In an event that took place outside schools, people from every age read books in stadiums in different parts of the country to develop reading awareness at a national level and this made an impact on young people as well as adults (The Governorship of Istanbul. 2008, Kılıc, n.d.). As a result, between 2008 and 2013, the reading rate increased from 4% to 6.8 % and the literacy rate from 92.9% to 96% (Unal, 2013, TUIK, 2013).
Even if the lack of economic wealth limits the publishing market in Turkey, there has been a distinct rise in the availability of children’s and young adult’s texts from both Turkish and World authors. This has brought a positive acceleration in the reading rate of young readers. Specifically, the translation of popular YA texts has opened a new field of reading in the country because there are not many Turkish authors who write for this age or, perhaps, because the authors who write YA literature are ‘not as good as foreign authors’, an opinion expressed by ‘Tess’ (the nickname of a girl w  ho participated in my project - she is a fan of Tess Gerritsen).
Regarding my own project, I am interested in the reading choices of adolescents in Turkey and the effects of these reading choices. I am conducting surveys, interviews and carrying out reading activities with readers in the second year of secondary in Adana province, in Southern Turkey. For the reading activities, I offer a list of Turkish and World classics as well as contemporary popular fiction to the participants. They choose one of them to read. If they want to read any other book which is not included in the list, they can do so as well. They identify the chapter they liked most and explain why, then the other participants read the chapter and they all discuss it. During these sessions, a total of 10 books will be discussed by two groups of five students.  

So far, according to the survey data I have obtained, 235 out of 294 students indicated that they have a favourite books and 74 of these books are Turkish books while 220 of these are World books. It is also interesting to note that among the ones who indicated a Turkish book as a favourite, there was a preference for realistic fiction, while the others preferred popular fantastic texts, such as The Hunger Games, Sherlock Holmes and Divergent. The Harry Potter and Twilight series were among their childhood favourites and opened the door for them to other stories involving fantasy.   

To conclude this brief account, although there are some factors that continue to have a negative impact on the reading practices of adolescents in Turkey, the increasing variety of books, which now include translated books, has been contributing to raising the reading rate.  We can hope that this will continue to rise, along with the new production of books for children and young people by Turkish authors and publishers, so that there will be a wider range of choices and readers will be further encouraged to read and, like the Head teacher mentioned at the start, will learn to love reading.

Osman Coban

Cötüksöken, Y. (2007). 100 Temel Eser Listeleri Üzerine, 100 Temel Eser Tartışması.

CSGB, (2015). Asgari Ücretin Net Hesabı, available at accessed on 17.05.2015.

Kılıç S., (n.d.). Malatya Okumada Dünya Rekoruna Koşuyor, available at accessed on 17.05.2015.
Robinson, A. (2010). Meltem's Journey: A Refugee Diary. Frances Lincoln ltd.

The Governorship of Istanbul, (n.d.) İstanbul İli Türkiye Okuyor Kampanyası Projesi, available at
Sabah (2012), Sigortalilarin Yarisi Asgari Ucretli, available at accessed on 19.05.2015.

TUIK (2012). ‘Working Children’, Turkish Statistical Institute, available at accessed on 17.05.2015.
TUIK (2013). ‘Turkey in Statistics 2013’, Turkish Statistical Institute, available at accessed on 19.05.2015.

Unal, (2013), Konusan Kitap Okumayı Artırdı, available at accessed on 14.12.2013.
Yegen, M. (2006). Müstakbel-Türk'ten Sözde-Vatandaşa: Cumhuriyet ve Kürtler. İletişim.



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