Abandoned by Education Ministry, hygiene problems abound in newly Turkish reopened schools

Turkish public schools reopened for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic last month, with the understanding that they would be cleaned according to standards that would prevent the spread of the deadly virus. According to teachers, this has not happened - many teachers have been forced to clean schools themselves without help from the Education Ministry.

Ferhat Yaşar / DUVAR

Schools throughout Turkey have been left without adequate resources and staff to keep schools clean enough to combat the spread of Covid-19, say parents and teachers. When schools reopened last month, the Education Ministry (MEB) said they would be kept clean to standards recommended by health experts. Now, with a lack of staff and support, teachers and families say they’re having to do the cleaning on their own.

Public schools in Turkey closed in March 2020, at the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. They remained shuttered until September 1, 2021, when they opened after an 18-month hiatus. Just days before schools opened, MEB sent around a circular entitled “Guide to Measures to be Taken at Schools in the Covid-19 Outbreak,” outlining cleaning and hygiene practices expected to be upheld for students. However, these standards have not been met - according to Eğitim-Sen, the union for teachers and educators, schools are filthy due to staffing shortages. The Head of the union, Mahmut Binici, said that in Şanlıurfa, in eastern Turkey, 90% of cleaning services were being provided by parents. 

Not only are schools not being cleaned, but they are overcrowded. According to the MEB circular, recess times should be staggered and entrance and exit from the school arranged to facilitate social distancing. This is not happening in schools crowded with two to three thousand children. All pupils are entering and exiting simultaneously, creating large crowds in close proximity. According to teachers, the only way to actually achieve social distancing would be to reduce school capacity.

The MEB circular also recommended that schools increase routine cleaning of the school. However, this is impossible due to insufficient staff and resources. Many parents are coming to help clean the schools, but this violates another of the circular’s rules, which states that parents are not allowed to enter schools during the pandemic. This leaves both parents and educators in a bind.

Head of Eğitim-Sen in Gaziantep, also in eastern Turkey, Ömer Parlakçı, says that little about the way schools operate has changed since before the pandemic. Despite the Education Ministry's claims that they have taken all possible precautions to keep students safe, Parlakçı says that the only change is mask-wearing. None of the hygiene and distancing measures MEB touts have actually been implemented. In Parlakçı’s school alone, three classrooms are already quarantined. 

“There is no precaution other than masks at the school where I teach,” he said. “All schools have quarantined classrooms. The capacity of the school where I teach is 1,400 people, and 3 classes are closed.”

Şanlıurfa Eğitim-Sen head Mahmut Binici says that schools have been left on their own to fight the coronavirus. They have been given no extra staff and no funding to help them keep schools clean. Schools need budget and extra staff to meet coronavirus guidelines. 

“Imagine a school with 1,500 students, 30 classrooms, and one auxiliary staff member. Is there any chance one person can do all this cleaning work? Of course not, support is needed,” he said.

Van Eğitim-Sen branch head Murat Atabey underlined that schools are in dire condition.