“Education is man’s most important enterprise,” as Moses Hadas states in Old Wine, New Bottles (1963, p. 3) and the art and science of interpretation is the central enterprise of the university curriculum in the humanities. In accordance with the given definitions of education and curriculum development, the English Language and Literature Department at Bilkent University aims at fostering students’ abilities to use the English language effectively in both its oral and written forms according to the needs of the occupation they are involved in. To achieve such an end, in other words, to consider the professional, the social and the individual aspects of education, the department follows a curriculum which selects courses according to the recent changes of styles, and cultural and economic policies. The curriculum aims to cover modern worldviews. As indicated by T.S. Eliot in To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings (1978) three objectives of education are to enable a boy or a girl to make his or her living, to equip him to play his part as a citizen of democracy and to enable him to develop all the latent powers and faculties of his nature and so enjoy a good life. This paper will discuss the need to make changes in the curricula of English Language and Literature Departments in private universities in Turkey, particularly at Bilkent University, a need that has arisen as a result of the economic changes that the country and the world, at large has experienced lately.
Literature can amuse, delight and teach and thus equips individuals in modern society with the necessary tools for work and social life. Turkey is a country where English is the second most frequently used language in business life, trade and global communication. The English Language and Literature Department with its educational priorities of developing language, communication and interpretative skills allows students to graduate with abilities which the market demands. Literature graduates could be employed in a wide variety of sectors, including tourism, education, transportation, sales, banking, translation and health care, if only they were given less limited curriculum about the subject area. The English Language and Literature Department offers courses that enable students to study different genres, such as novel, poetry, the short story and drama from the medieval and early modern periods, to the twenty-first century. In addition to this core curriculum other courses enable students to develop their skills and interests in practical areas, such as computer literacy, literary and non-literary translation and drawing. They are free to take courses from different departments that appeal to their interests and that may prepare them for graduate studies or make them familiar with the occupational subjects of popular work areas. In Turkey changing trends in job selection lead college students and their families to look for programmes that will open the way to well-paid jobs. For this reason, engineering departments and business administration departments have admitted great number of students.
The global economic crisis that hit Turkey at the beginning of 2000 affected student admissions to Social Sciences Departments dramatically. The English Language and Literature Department has suffered from this decrease in numbers and received 70% fewer students than the previous year, i.e., 1999. The obvious reason is not graduating the students with the exact job title, an opposite case is evident in Law, Engineering and Medicine Departments. Such programmes equip students with the very needs of an occupation, the title of which is already bestowed on graduates as they are given their certificates. With a less concrete outcome of a definite job, English Literature Departments experienced a drastic decline.
A temporary solution for students whose subject area is English was to offer a programme with a teaching certificate. This way with the diploma students are given they can immediately become English teachers. To become an English teacher at private high schools in Turkey, the curriculum of which comprises of works in literature, literature courses still occupied the two third of the English Teacher Education Department. For three years of a five-year programme with teaching certificate students were given English and American literature courses. At private high schools with international baccalaureat (IB) programme English teachers discuss, interpret and analyse literature texts. Such an education at college level with a strong emphasis on English Language and Literature put the graduates among the most wanted list for high schools who want to employ new English teachers.
Since 2008 a reverse case has been experienced at Bilkent University with a revival of interest in the English Language and Literature Department. The department now admits students ignoring the previous concern of giving students a specific job title, but had a new look this time by enriching the curriculum with minor programmes in political science, international relations, history or American Literature. Such a healing effect has been felt in the English Department with the change in curriculum, enabling students to enrol in a minor programme, and to be involved in the activities that may provide a basis for their future studies and job areas.