Village Institutes

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Turkish institutes for training primary-school teachers.

The Village Institutes (Köy Enstitüleri) of Turkey represented a short-lived (19401950) but highly innovative experiment in primary-school teacher training. In the 1930s, over 75 percent of Turkey's people lived in some 35,000 villages, and over 80 percent of these villagers were illiterate. Only a small proportion of villages had primary schools, and most of their urban-born teachers had difficulty coping with rural conditions. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) and his ruling Republican People's Party (RPP) planned to design a national system of compulsory secular education to enculturate a new generation of Turks in the principles of modern science and Turkish nationalism. Educational reform and a cadre of new, secular teachers were to spread Kemalism and lift the masses from the depths of poverty and ignorance. While impressive educational gains were achieved in the cities, most villages remained without schools.

Ismail Hakki Tonguç, the director general of primary education, and his colleagues designed a plan they hoped would produce teachers capable of living in the villages and able to make a comprehensive impact on them. The plan called for creating special teacher-training institutes, recruiting village students to them, teaching these students general subjects plus useful village technology, and then sending them back to the villages to teach in five-year primary schools.

Shortly after the Turkish Grand National Assembly passed the necessary legislation in 1940, fourteen Village Institutes opened their doors to eager recruits. Actually, many of the institutes' facilities were incomplete, so teachers and students worked side by side building classrooms, dining halls, and dormitories. In the process, students acquired useful carpentry, masonry, and other construction skills.

The ministry of education intentionally located the institutes in rural areas, so that students could practice farming, plant orchards, develop water and sanitation systems, and generally confront typical village problems with modern skills and science. Youths of both sexes, between the ages of twelve and sixteen, who were graduated by a five-year village primary school, qualified for admission to a village institute. The government offered this education free to students who pledged to teach in an assigned village for twenty years after graduation.

Twenty-five percent of the Institute's five-year curriculum was devoted to agriculture (crop production, zootechnology, apiculture [beekeeping], and silkworm culture); 25 percent was devoted to technology (carpentry, construction, blacksmithing, health, and childcare for female students); and 50 percent dealt with general education (the Turkish language, history, literature, geography, math, biology, and civics). In 1950, the curriculum was expanded to six years. As village teachers, institute graduates were expected to teach general education subjects to children, adult-literacy classes, scientific farming and animal husbandry, and handicrafts; they were obligated to play a central role in the community and generally awaken the civic conscience of the rural population.

The institutes provided some of the most idealistic and dedicated rural teachers in Turkey's history. These young men and women inspired many villagers to continue their educations beyond primary school; some even went to the university. A number of village teachers, such as Mahmut Makal (author of Bizim Köy, translated as A Village in Anatolia ), became famous writers who pioneered a new literary genre that focused on peasant life.

From their inception, however, the Village Institutes were subject to controversy. Political opponents described them as indoctrination agencies of the ruling party. Some educators claimed they failed to prepare students adequately for their exhaustive duties as rural teachers. Very conservative villagers complained that institute graduates preached revolutionary and antireligious ideas in their villages. More extreme opponents accused the institutes of teaching communism.

When the new opposition party, the Democrat party (DP), came to power in 1950, they removed institute supporters from the ministry of education and abolished the twenty-one existing institutes by transforming them into ordinary teacher-training schools. Before their demise, the institutes had graduated 15,767 men and 1,395 women.


Stone, Frank A. "Rural Revitalization and the Village Institutes in Turkey: Sponsors and Critics." Comparative Education Review 18 (1974): 419429.

Vexliard, Alexandre, and Aytac, Kemal. "The Village Institutes in Turkey." Comparative Education Review 8 (1964): 4147.

paul j. magnarella

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Village Institutes

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