Suicides blamed on exam overload

October 18, 2002

The suicides of two sisters have highlighted the growing pressures facing Turkey's young people as they scramble for a coveted university place.

The sisters killed themselves with a shotgun in a suicide pact after failing to pass Turkey's university entrance exam. The Turkish media said the final straw for them was their father's inability to pay for extra tutoring in a bid to re-sit the exam.

A spate of suicides usually follows the publication of the entrance exam results in September. A population explosion in the past 20 years and a failure to boost the number of university places has increased competition. Aspiring students study for two years, with most attending private courses at the weekend and in the evenings.

Ozdemir Gursu, head of security for the province of Erzerum, told The THES : "This is a real problem. Today there are such high expectations by parents for their children. Many families - even those who can't really afford it - spend money on extra tuition.

"They all want their children to be the best and go to university. The pressure on the children is just too great."

Competition has further increased as the economic crisis has deepened. Psychiatrist Aysen Bullet from Istanbul's Cappa Hospital said: "The economic crisis has increased pressure even more on children. Parents think if they get to university, they'll find a job more easily and will be able to help the family. But it is a myth. Nowadays there are so many graduates unemployed."

Calls are growing for the university entrance exam to be reformed. Dr Bullet said: "We need a complete change in mentality. We must use other assessments such as course work interviews, rather than relying on just an increasingly more difficult entrance exam."

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