This Turkish maths teacher is defying a government ban by using Periscope to teach 1000s of students

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Saturday 22 August 2015 16:00

Ekol Hoca, from Izmir in Turkey, is not an ordinary maths teacher.

Every day he's at the whiteboard by 5.30am, ready to instruct more than 1,000 students via the livestreaming app Periscope - and he doesn't even get paid for it.

Ekol used to teach at an evening prep school that helped get pupils ready for university, but the Turkish government has recently decided to shut down lots of privately organised tuition. The move was described as a measure to end inequality in education - but, Ekol says, it has had the exact opposite effect.

"Students from state schools, whose families are low income, can only compete on the university entrance exam with students from private colleges when they attend prep schools," Ekol said.

Since lots of the preparatory schools are affiliated with the Gülen religious movement, many in Turkey view the attempt to close them as a thinly veiled attack on Gülen supporters, whom the government holds responsible for recent unrest and corruption allegations levelled at relations of government members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son.

Out of the prep schools that are still open, teachers are being barred from receiving salaries, and none have been transferred to state schools as promised. The upheaval has had a massive effect on students, many of whom cannot afford more expensive private tutors to prepare them for university exams.

To try and combat the problem Ekol turned to the internet:

Seeing as our [protests to keep the schools open] didn’t have any serious impact, I started using Twitter and Periscope for teaching, and Periscope worked like a charm. I showed that education cannot be banned and that classes can be given any time, under any circumstances.

The online classes launched two weeks before the university entrance exams started in May, and have proved hugely popular - sometimes there can be 1,000 tuning in to a session.

Everyday I give maths and geometry lessons and solve problem sets... Classes on Periscope are far more productive, enjoyable and faster than the regular classes given in a classroom. I feel the pleasure of teaching freely without restrictions of curriculum and other things.

Despite the huge class numbers, lessons remain interactive. Ekol will ask students to tell him whether they understood his explanation by sending 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' icons.

After class many students form their own online discussion groups to go through what they learned and their homework assignments and Ekol is always available to answer questions on his Twitter account, which has almost 90,000 followers.

Seventeen-year-old Meltem Akim, from Afyon, said she attends Ekol's lessons every evening. She said in an email that his help was letting her enjoy maths as a subject for the first time ever.

"He is friendly and he is a good teacher," she said. "[Interacting with] the emojis is cool and fun."

Meltem Akim, one of Ekol's students

Sometimes Ekol even manages to get special guests to log in and give talks - so far representatives from Nasa and the White House have encouraged his classes to keep studying maths.

Ekol's achievements have been also been praised by Periscope's CEO Kayvon Beykpour, but he says it's working with the students that really drives him onwards.

It's great to teach freely without curriculum restrictions and other things... Students attending from all over Turkey and even different parts of the world give me a motivational boost.

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