Tony Gurr

Is Hazırlık BROKEN?

In Adult Learners, Assessment, Curriculum, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 08/05/2013 at 7:28 pm

This is a question I have been thunking about a lot recently – and you know what they say about questions, don’t you?

Questions (O'Conner Quote) NEW

…by Hazırlık I am, of course, talking about the university-level ELL or ELT ‘prep programmes’ we offer here in canım Türkiyem…so go to another blog, if you are not that interested in this kinda stuff…

Or not, if you work in the same ‘sector’ in another part of the world (and, there are lots of you – I know)!


Now, don’t get me wrong…I am not asking the question in the title of this post to start another round of ‘finger-pointing’ or to pour petrol onto what is already the raging bonfire of …

Blame Game (TG ver)

…we tend to play when we talk about the ‘quality’ of English language teaching (and LEARNing) that our universities offer. We’ll come back to this little ‘game’ a wee bit later – if the truth was known it is perhaps this aspect of how we ‘do’ business (in our schools of ‘higher LEARNing’) that needs the most ‘fixing‘!


I am asking the question…

Is hazırlık BROKEN

…because at a couple of recent ELT conferences here in Turkey (one on Curriculum and another on Quality and Standards), I have been thunking and talking about George Orwell’s suggestion that…

TELLing the truth

…a ‘revolutionary act’ whose time has come!

Besides, our marathon conference season is wrapping up soon…I have finished me book (plug, plug, plug) and I needed to get back to me blogging!


When we go to a lot of conferences, we do a lot of feel-good ‘sharing’…we network…we pick up a few ‘classroom McNuggets’…and occasionally we stumble across an idea or three that really makes us ‘thunk’ (and we hear a lot of back-door self-promotion…did you know the book is available on Amazon, too – and a lot of very lame jokes we have probably heard before – but that’s for another post).

Great stuff (except those last two)! But, we do not often hear people…

Truth (mini ver 01)


…the REAL truth, that is!


This is what I challenged myself to do in the last couple of sessions I have done at conferences. I wasn’t quite sure what type of response I would get…

In both events, I shared this image

John Rogers QUOTE

John said this at around about the time I started teaching – yes, I am that old! The funny thing was that nearly everybody (in both conference rooms) agreed that it was STILL true TODAY…in canım Türkiye (and probably in many other countries around the globe)!


Despite this fact, there were a few people that the question made a wee bit ‘uncomfortable’. Many of them jumped in to defend themselves by saying it was not their ‘fault’ (ahh, the power of ‘the blame game’) – they reminded us about ‘educational culture’ we have to live with and highlighted the change has (sadly) taken hold of Turkey over the last decade or so…


…I know many a US ‘educational reformer’ that would love to have the network of exams and tests Turkey has been able (so effectively) to put in place all the way from primary to post-university…and even ‘job selection’.

The Higher Education Council (YÖK) has even managed to put systems in place that…

YÖK and mct hiring

8I find it’s best, with allthingsYÖK at least…to remember the ‘serenity prayer’:

Serenity Prayer

…but I’m getting off the point!


If we take the time to look (really ‘look’) at the challenges our hazırlık schools face (the ones that are more in our ‘circle of influence’), there are many things that need more than a bit of attention.

Take, for instance, the ‘feelings’ that many teachers have about the way they have to ‘do business’ in many of our schools (even the so-called ‘top schools’)…

Teacher (hands tied)

How many of you know a teacher that feels like this from time to timemost of the time…and has to ‘break-the-rules’ (quietly…when no one is looking…to get some real language LEARNing done)? In the two sessions I did recently, almost 100% of participants did…and many said they felt like this themselves most of the time!


I also asked if people had come across a phrase that many hazırlık students are using to describe their current pre-freshman ELL / ELT experiences:

Lise 5

…a ‘sweet’ turn-of-phrase but one that captures how many hazırlık LEARNers feel about how and what they are being taught, the way hazırlik schools treat them as ‘customers’ and how similar it all is to high school.

The bottom line is, of course, if our two key groups of stakeholders (teachers and LEARNers) are feeling, shall we say, less than satisfied with their experiences…we have to listen…heck, we have to do more than listen!

Teachers, especially those with families to provide for, might not be able to ‘vote with their feet’…but many hazırlık schools (especially those of the ‘vakıf’ or ‘foundation/private’ variety) are getting more than a bit worried about the recent upsurge of footsteps on the LEARNer side of things.


Of course, I am not suggesting that every teacher and every student feels this way. We have some really good people in some really good schools that are doing some great things (many of them have been doing these things for years – and some of them have been connecting the dots between institutions more and more recently). I am taking about a general ‘state-of-the-nation’ challenge across the ‘sector’ – about the way we ‘do the business of ELL’ across the country in general. And, I’m guessing that many of these core challenges will resonate with my fellow bloggers in other countries.


There are other areas – and I want to take a look at a few of them over the next few posts. BUT, I’m gonna need some help!


What do you thunk? Is hazırlık ‘broken’? Where? In what ways? …and, how do ‘we’ fix it?

More of the same (my dogs)

  1. If I could, I would have students study English integrated into curricula in their actual departments. 4-6 hours a week apart from their field-rlated courses would be fine. They would never hate English then, and they would never feel isolated from the outer world.

    • Cagdas,

      This idea is so important – and one of the things that most Prep Programmes ‘forget’. Students are coming to university to learn more about a discipline (at the end of the day) – the connection with their future departments is critical (even at very low “levels”). The thing is – before students can connect with their departments, those very departments need to connect with the prep school – yani, stop looking at hazirlik programmes as the “unwanted step-child”. Hazirlik (no Turkish keyboard with me – sorry) is the first year of a student’s university “career” – in many ways, the most important year. The teams in the post-hazirlik departments and hazirlik teams themselves need to remember that LEARNing is not about “us” – it’s about the students 🙂


  2. Reblogged this on TeachersReflect and commented:

  3. Hi Tony,

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I remember” teaching” two main grammar subjects on the same day. I pity my students and understand how discouraged they are. I don’t know how it is possible to teach how to write an essay in 4 hours and teach a different type every week in 4 hours again. Are the aims of prepatory classes achievable? Or are there any aims at all?

    I feel like I am everything else but not a teacher in the class most of the time. Expectation from teachers is usually to execute the program. I hardly find time to teach something real. Of course, I am getting used to it and finding sneaky ways to pick things and create a better environment to really teach them.

    I don’t want to be judgmental. Institutions may be having some difficulties dealing with the regulations of YOK. YOK needs to revise the regulations about aims of prepatory schools. And I do not think everyone has to learn english. Most of them believe they will not use English in their lives, so they come to the classes only because they have to. What do you think about that? Is it possible to motivate hundreds of students who are forced to take English classes for a year and given a make-up exam at the end if they fail?

    Anyway, I will not be teaching prep classes next year. Not because I gave up, but because I have to move somewhere else. However, addiction to books and heavy schedules is not peculiar to universities. I am afraid I may have a similar approach to teaching in my new school as well.

    • Asli Hocam,

      Love it when I see people being this open, this honest – this is how we move forward. Every single one of us (those that have worked in the ELL “sector”) will say the same – yani, we have all “done” the future tense at one time in our careers…and we know “doing” it has not had much of an impact on how well our students communicate. As I said in the post…”more of the SAME is not the solution”!

      Our general thunking (in the “sector”) on curriculum, assessment, LEARNing, teaching, feedback, etc – has come on in leaps and bounds! It’s time for institutions to walk-the-talk…no blame game, no fault…as Nike tells us…”JUST DO IT”!

      It ain’t rocket science 🙂

      Thanks for dropping in…and being you 🙂


  4. Yes, it broke is. Yoda teaching better could be. Speaking English he is. Too many teachers here not speak English. Teach language like mathematics: Subject + verb+ object = sentence. Me thinks it’s called Lise 5 more by the teachers who have to deal with the şimarik çocukar in their classes.

  5. You bring back a lot of memories Tony 🙂 Tough questions to answer as usual. I’d say that Hazirlik is not Lise 5. I wish it was. It all depends on how you define a high school of course. But if it was Lise 5, we would at least acknowledge the need for wholistic education and have Hazirlik schools instead of language schools.

  6. Hi Tony,

    I really loved your detections on our Hazırlık program. They are very very sad, but unfortunately very true… You know where I work in Karabük, the conditions here, and I must say that it is getting worse.. We are doubling the number each year, so we have 50 students in a classroom now.. Next year, our aim is 100! I guess..

    Hazırlık has already been broken for years, but our “wise” people cannot (or just refuse to) see it. Last week I had 40 students in one of my classrooms; 25 of them didn’t even bring their books, 7 brought them but didn’t dare to open; 4, both brought and opened but some of them were on the wrong page, and the rest 4 were the only ones who were interested in the lesson if I explained them grammar rules! My students are coming to the school just to be able to sign the attendance sheet; because they only fail if they go beyond their absence limit, not because of the grades! And I have nothing to interfere to this situation.

    There, I thought maybe a millions time “What am I really doing in this classroom? Baby-sitting?” I was really disappointed and burnout. I want to quit, but I have to earn my life, so I can’t… I also want to go and see the rector but I am afraid of losing my job.. I don’t really know what I should do…

    But the thing I do now is neither TEACHing nor LEARNing… And I am very sorry because I cannot follow my dreams.. at least that wasn’t what I dreamt for years…

  7. You and I have already talked at length about this. Perhaps ‘broken’ is a strong term but ‘in need of updating’ certainly sounds right. Hazırlık must be seen as step one of a three step process in English – Hazırlık – Freshman-Department and the three groups have to work in tandem together. Far too often none of these three ‘hands’ know or understand what the others are doing. What has become increasingly obvious is that in the Vakıf Universities departments are becoming more and more fed up with having students who can’t produce. They dont care whether students know the grammar rules or answer a multiple choice question. What they care about is whether the stduents can communicate in written or spoken form. Perhaps the first step is to get these three ‘steps’ talking to each other as stakeholders, which will then perhaps allow Hazırlık to re-focus itself.

    On a side note Lise 5 hahahaha! Yes, when classrooms look like Lise, teachers behave like Lise and rules are based on lise then what have you got? If it looks like a duck…

    • G,

      TY for popping in 😉 Not so sure if “broken” is the wrong word…think it’s just right. If we look at the best hazırlık centres around – in Türkiye and other places – they have all, at one time or another, said “we are failing” … then moved to do something about it.

      I like the policy of calling a “spade” a “spade” – stops us digging in all the wrong places 😉

      “Failure” does not have the stigma attached to it – that it used to have (except in the minds of “dinosaurs” – as you put it earlier) 😉 Saying something is “broken” brings about the sense of urgency that is needed. Many stakeholders feel that urgency already – have for years. We just need the right kind of leadership…to bring in the “LEARNing” (not the “blame game”) from those failures…and “fix” stuff 😉


  8. Hey Tony,

    Great blog and great posts that have followed. Of all of the posts you’ve written, this one has stuck with me.

    As you know I spent a full week (first time in Turkey) visiting several of the top Hazirlik programs in Istanbul, Izmir and Eskisahir. I met some incredibly motivated Directors, very strong teams of teachers and teacher coordinators who were all enthusiastic and attentive to what I had to say. Generally, I was quite impressed with what I saw and learned about each school but was quite aware that I was meeting, in some cases, the top 5 teachers from a team of several hundred teachers–just the tip of the iceberg.

    As you also know, i was in Turkey presenting a web-based writing tool for use in ELL/ELT classrooms to help students improve their writing skills quickly and help carry some of the burden of writing evaluation for the teachers (and allowing students more practice with feedback!).

    Across the board, every teacher and director we spoke to was enthusiastic about the tool.

    However, every single one of them spoke to similar concerns about whether it could be successfully implemented for several reasons:

    a) most of the teachers would not take advantage of a new online tool because they are overwhelmed and it would be perceived as something additional they need to ‘manage’ and

    b) student acceptance of another ‘resource’ on top of the stack of other publisher materials they are fed would be ‘simply too much’ and ‘they just won’t take to it because we already have so many other materials’.

    I am no Hazirlik expert. and certainly don’t claim to be. But what the above obstacles tell me about the Prep Year system in Turkey is that a) both students and teachers are overwhelmed by requirements, materials and restrictions and b) there is perhaps an overemphasis on knowledge and ‘knowing English’, whereas there should be more emphasis on ‘skills’ and ‘competencies’, i.e. what a student can actually ‘do’ with the language.

    After all, we learn English (presumably) not just to pass the test or get a high mark. We learn English because it is relevant and essential to our field of study, our career path, our future prospects in the job market. At University and in the job market, no one cares if you know the grammar rule for the past perfect continuous–they want to know that you can implement that rule in practice and communicate and function effectively in English.

    Skills and competencies. Not grammar and vocabulary.


    Thanks again for your initiative and passion for this subject.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: