Mine Ekinci

Ashoka Fellow
This description of Mine Ekinci's work was prepared when Mine Ekinci was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2019 .

Introduction

Mine and the KODA team are building a community of teachers, students, academicians, decision makers and village communities to enhance best-practices for village teachers. They are working to equip the fresh graduate village teachers with tools and knowledge to help them strive as the leaders of the rural context. By positioning these young professionals as the mavens of rural education, Mine aims to build a long term sustainable education model in rural Turkey to unlock the potential of children living in these regions.  

The New Idea

Mine works to empower teachers who, in turn, nourish the system itself and trigger system change at a national level. Having realized the young cohort of teachers working in village schools, Mine and KODA have decided to aim these fresh graduates with comprehensive education content to bring power to this overlooked group who can deliver various range of skills and talent to their students.  

Mine is rethinking rural education in rural Turkey by focusing on their strengths for an intimate education, rather than their traditional disadvantages such as lack of physical resources. She is building a community of teachers, students, academicians, and decision makers to enhance the already existing best practices of village teachers and schools to change Turkey’s perceptions about what “a good education” really is. In prioritizing academic, sentimental and cognitive learning, KODA is the first holistic education movement in rural Turkey. 

Mine’s plans do not stop in schools, she hopes to shift the mindset of citizens and educators about the rural life. KODA emphasizes the advantages of rural communities in providing education that includes nature and local culture. Mine plans to build an exemplary village school in Turkey in order to implement the best practices of rural education. This school will act as a basis for other educators to gain knowledge on practices that can be replicated in other rural communities. Furthermore, Mine has a vision for building the biggest rural teacher network of Turkey to empower villagers through the teachers.  

The Problem

There are 1 million children of primary school-age living in rural Turkey. Village schools are considered disadvantaged spaces for children due to poor physical conditions and crowded classrooms. Shutting down the schools and introducing large-depo type regional schools with dormitories has been a policy implemented in recent years. By creating depo type regional schools with dormitories and lengthy commutes for students, state caused many families to withdraw their children from the education system. The ones continuing their education face difficulties in integrating themselves in this new community, losing their self-confidence and belief to thrive in local communities.  

While most children are forced to attend the depo-type schools, the remaining small village schools face another challenge as fresh graduate teachers from urban centers are sent to these schools to “gain experience in education”. Turkish policy dictates that all new teachers be assigned to disadvantaged schools for 5-7 years before being able to teach in other areas, resulting in many young, inexperienced and short-term teachers being responsible for the education of village children. These teachers often feel isolated and overwhelmed in these positions. Forced to work alone in their villages most of the time, these teachers also lack the peer-to-peer support they need to improve their teaching skills and to protect their wellbeing.  

There are an estimated number of 50,000 teachers working in village schools currently. These young professionals form the 1/6 of all primary school teachers in Turkey. Raised and educated in urban centers, village teachers are defining themselves “unfortunate” compared to their peers in urban settings for not being able to apply the state curriculum in their context. Composed of ideas to educate urban children, neither the curriculum nor the teacher training programs offered by Ministry of Education can support these young professionals. 

The Strategy

Seeing an opportunity in the current rural education, Mine and KODA team developed a three-pillar strategy to unlock the potential of village schools in Turkey. 

On the first level, team develops peer to peer teacher networks in rural settings to supply the new teachers with a community of like minded educators. By bringing together these teachers through online and offline gatherings, the team aims to reduce the sense of loneliness and to increase the ability to act as leaders of rural communities. Supported by their peers, most of the teachers reclaim their position as one of the decision makers in rural communities, helping the locals to reshape the villages in a way that supports the children’s learning journey.  

On the second level, KODA team realizes the importance of teaching as a profession. By bringing together a hub of experts and volunteers to support these teachers, Mine empowers these fresh graduates to thrive in their jobs. This hub acts as a pool of resources and experience, thus provides the teachers with necessary skills to pursue their career in rural settings. Presenting their content during the teacher gatherings, KODA team teachers the teachers to create new education methodologies that is aligned with the realities of their local context. Mine has recently included education faculties in their work to deliver a similar content to the potential village teachers in universities.  

On the third level, the team partners with education NGOs and the Ministry of Education to mainstream their approach as the new national rural education strategy. Advocating for the importance of community based rural education in village schools, the team aims to reduce the rate of migration from rural to urban both for the teachers and the rural dwellers.  

Up until this day, KODA model reached 2,000 children through 130 teachers in their village communities. Taking into account the impact of these children in their families and communities, the team estimates a total of 7,000 rural dwellers to be impacted by their programs. The team has also started to work on their first model village school in Western Turkey which will act as a hub of experiment and best practices for rural education. The team believes this hub to attract more decision makers and teachers in the conversation. 

The Person

Mine started her education path at her primary school in a small town of Turkey then followed by getting into one of the best high schools of Turkey with a scholarship. She continued her academic path in a very privileged university of Turkey (Bogazici University, Istanbul) which opened up the opportunity of conducting her masters in politics of education in Harvard University in the US. Following a path of academic success and praise in the first 20 years of her life, Mine was always concerned with the injustices she observed in those institutions rather than the well-known aspects of those schools. She had a long-time contemplating on how to change this frustrating system in which children of upper class has always remained privileged in terms of academic and social activities. 

As she searched for answers to her questions, she became more and more involved in the stories of village teachers who were left alone in uncanny settings with almost zero experience in rural living. Impressed by teachers’ ability to try-improve-scale models in their schools, Mine decided to start a national community of village teachers to create a platform of peer learning and support for these young professionals. Bringing together the pieces of rural life within this new (and bottom-up) educational model, she aims to provide a global example to all organizations searching for solutions to improve the life in rural.