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Seminar examining Kurdish and Turkish youth in London: Suicide Rates and Poor Schooling

Seminar examining Kurdish and Turkish youth in London:

A SEMINAR to discuss rising suicide rates among young males in Britain

A SEMINAR to discuss rising suicide rates among young males in Britain

Organised by the Haringey-based Elbistan Community Centre (El-Com), the panel was attended by sociologists İpek Demir, from Leicester University, and Ümit Çetin, from the University of Westminster. The panel debated “Identity, culture shock and their reflections on Kurdish Alevi youths”.

Mr Çetin, who spoke first in the talk that was chaired by El-Com director Aydın Doğan, began by relaying data on the number of suicidal youths from Turkey living in London. He noted that those who committed suicide were entirely male and that the triggers were such issues as a clash of generations, the absence of a cultural identity and the difficulties with adapting to a different culture.

He said there was an ideological lifestyle driven by the media based on wealth and becoming rich and that this was effective in Turkish-speaking communities as much as in others. He said that any young people would turn to gangs and criminal groups in an attempt to get rich quick.

Mr Çetin said he had spoken to many families who had lost a son to suicide and that all had exhibited a lack of communication, and that this also applied in their school lives.

A SEMINAR to discuss rising suicide rates among young males in Britain

Dr İpek Demir underlined that the problem of integration of immigrants in London could not
only be laid at the door of immigrants. The host community also needed to own up to the
inequalities and problems that exist in the UK. Her talk focused on educational inequalities in
Britain. She underlined how the children of immigrants, including those who were Kurds and
Turks from Turkey, suffered inequalities due to class and ethnic ‘penalties’. Highlighting the
way in which the British education system now works like a ‘market’ she said: “Markets are
based on choice and are geared up to create winners and losers. This is what our education
in Britain also does: it creates winners and losers. The result of education becoming centred
on choice and the market is that the children of immigrants (and other disadvantaged groups
such as the white and ethnic minority poor) who are themselves not educated, who know less
about how education in Britain works, and who are not able to play this market effectively are
destined to lose out”.
She continued: “In the UK we have a parentocratic rather than a meritocratic education
system and this works against the children of immigrants whose parents lack the ‘right’ and
‘desirable’ type of cultural and social capital which would help their children be successful.
Those parents who have a university degree, who are well off, educated and with the ‘right’
sort of cultural and social capital, on the other hand, are able to manoeuvre the school system
to get their children into successful schools, are able to be demanding of schools in the ‘right
way’ if teaching quality is poor, more likely to be school governors, more able to help with
homework, more able and willing to get extra tuition, more able to understand what school
requirements and expectations are like and so on. The language, culture and expectations of
the school are more likely to align with those at home. It is not money, but other types of
capital, the existence of the right sort of ‘cultural and social capital’ which are important here.”
Demir also highlighted that money of course still mattered too and that wealthier parents are
able to pay for education by sending to their children to fee paying schools or buy housesto
live near a good school. Aspirational immigrants who are rich and/or who are educated are
also able to play the educational market well.
Dr Demir stressed that: “We have an expectation, a hope that education will help reduce
social inequalities, and that the children from all backgrounds have the same chance to be
successful in education and later in life. This belief goes against the facts of current Britain as
shown by sociological and educational research. Yes, the children of some who are from
disadvantaged backgrounds will do well. But they are an exception. In fact, the question we
need to ask is how those who ‘did it’ went against the grain and were successful. As long as
we have a competitive job market and we don’t have mixed schools (mixed in terms of ability,
parents’ background, income, ethnicity etc.), the education market will continue to have its
‘losers’ and ‘winners’ and the children of immigrants (even later generations, e.g. 2 nd , 3 rd
generations) will continue to suffer.
Dr Demir highlighted that educational inequalities are linked to the British economy and the
job market. She said: ‘The job market is getting tougher and more competitive. As the job
market in the UK gets more competitive, the parents of privileged children will have a leg up
the ladder and do everything to make sure their children end up in good schools and then in
good careers in later life. They will play the education market in every way they can to ensure
that disadvantage is not near their children, that their children do not even share the same
school yard with those who look poor or deprived, or with the wrong kind of accent. What’s
interesting is that they will present this as ‘doing the best for my child’.”
Dr Demir continued to say that the current education system reproduces social inequalities
rather than solve the problem of existing social inequalities in Britain.
She said part of the solution lay in people from disadvantaged backgrounds (poor whites,
immigrants, ethnic minorities etc.) creating solidarities and a united front to fight against this
huge injustice of our times. She called on Kurds and Turks in London to align themselves with
migrants from other countries to do this.
Dr Demir said:  “There is much more in common between a Kosovar immigrant, an Afro-
Caribbean, and a Kurd or a disadvantaged Brit in London than we immediately realise. The
problems their children face in schools and later in life in Britain are similar. Parents from
different communities need to start talking to one another and start looking for common
solutions to their common problems, including making demands on British schools and
institutions to get rid of marketisation in schooling. They need to do these collectively and
through group action.”