The reason that the Hizmet movement concentrates on the few areas that it does has to do with the importance and centrality of those areas in our lives. Providing services in education is a core commitment of the Movement because it is so vital for just about everyone and for one’s whole lifetime. The right education can not only improve employment opportunities and self-esteem, it can also enable individuals to look for and find meaning in their lives. It is an essential, vital need of human nature to seek knowledge and understanding, a need that has both intellectual and spiritual dimensions.
The Movement’s efforts in the area of education have been an important milestone in the modern history of Turkish society. Most readers will already be well aware of Fethullah Gülen’s role in encouraging tens of thousands of teachers, inspiring and guiding them to make their schools the very best of their kind, and his role in persuading businessmen to establish and sustain educational institutions. Hizmet has proved very competent and professional in terms of delivering success, and over the years the Movement has been able to establish schools in many countries worldwide. The schools that did not last are very few and far between. The overwhelming majority have delivered education to the highest possible standard and proved themselves popular and self-sustaining. In this post, I want to reflect on why and how this success came about.
When Gülen called on mosque-goers to establish educational institutions instead of more mosques many businessmen set up trusts which funded tuition facilities and hostels and then independent schools. Indeed, this became, and has remained, a sort of positive craze among many Gülen-influenced philanthropists, so that such trusts continue to be established. Within just the first ten to fifteen years Hizmet educational institutions including universities had spread across Turkey. Thereafter, similar institutions were set up in Central Asia, then in the states of the Russian Federation, the Balkans, the Caucuses, the Far East, Africa, Europe and, more recently in both North and South America and in the Middle East. This has been an extraordinary journey, a true learning experience for educators, administrators and teachers.
Having studied many Hizmet schools and colleges around the world I was struck by how consistently they followed universal or global values and at the same time remained local and integrated with the community around them. Their approach is at the same time global and local or, as the two terms are sometimes conjoined, “glocal”. In a paper presented at an education seminar in Finland I tried to explain what “glocal” can mean. The usage was at first frowned upon as somewhat newfangled or odd. But in fact it is not such a strange notion – clearly in the world of trade and commerce, people try to match globally appreciated standards of goods and services with local conditions and take account of local preferences. In this approach there are greater opportunities for mutual benefit and maximizing advantage. I do not claim that implementation of this approach to education is unique to the Hizmet movement – there is a strong possibility that other providers are doing it too, perhaps less deliberately, partially, and without naming it as such.
How did the Hizmet movement develop an understanding of “glocal education”? The development in Turkey from the late 1970s, through the 1980s of an education revolution, carried by private initiatives of the Hizmet volunteers, inspired the next step. From 1992 onwards, following the collapse of the USSR, Hizmet began exporting the huge success and the expertise it had enjoyed in Turkey into the countries of Central Asia and the Russian Federation. The teachers and educators had to change their ways, adapt to the new environment of multi- lingual, multi-cultural and multi-faith societies. This was the steep part of the learning curve for the teachers and educators on their journey. Not only did they export their new vibrant, altruistic, open-minded and future-oriented approach to education, they also enriched that approach with the experience of teachers graduated from the former USSR. This was the first stage of the evolution of “glocal education”. It was followed by an effort to learn lessons and consolidate, trying to settle things down before the Movement opened itself into new directions.
The later stages began with the opening of secondary and high schools in the Balkan countries, and then in the Far East where major differences needed to be absorbed. Employment of local teachers across all countries ended the initial dominance of the Movement’s first cadre of teachers; soon these educational institutions graduated and generated their own teachers. Opening into Africa and Europe and constant interaction of the teachers from all countries speeded up the progress. The contribution of Western approaches to understanding of education has been huge. Finally, the establishment of schools in the US and Middle Eastern countries as well as in South America is carrying the evolution of “glocal education” further and faster.
A major factor in the success of this approach has been the teaching of at least two foreign languages. English is the only language that is taught in all schools. The regional language is taught – for instance in the former USSR countries Russian, or in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) Arabic – then, the local or national language which is the main language used in class, alongside English, and lastly there are optional courses in Turkish or other languages. For instance, when I visited Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) I was amazed that the pupils in these colleges could speak English, Arabic, Kurdish and some of them also Turkish. These pupils are able to open up to the world in general through English, to the Arab world through Arabic, to the Turkic-speaking countries through Turkish, while retaining their local cultural connections through their local language. It is the same story in many schools and colleges regardless of whether they are situated in Africa or the Far East or Central Asia.
Whether we name it “glocal education” or something else, the Hizmet movement has evolved its educational approach from a local/national one to a global one and from that point reversed and adjusted to a glocal one. This is one of the main reasons why Hizmet schools have been so successful in so many diverse countries, catering to the educational needs of local communities while connecting them to wider regional and global contexts. It has been an extraordinary journey for the teachers and educators mainly from Turkey who adapted their attitudes, aims and methods to the expanded area of operation of Hizmet. It is entirely possible that some of these teachers would find it quite difficult to adapt to the comparatively narrow educational horizons of their original countries if they return to teaching “back home”.