Turkey: Government attempts to intensify religious education

Regressive school reform causes uproar

The government of the "Justice and Development Party (AKP) is attempting to push through regressive educational reform without public debate. This has been one of the main talking points in Turkish media in recent weeks and has caused uproar among education workers. Most of Turkey’s top universities have condemned the proposals, which have even led to fist fights in the Turkish parliament.

According to the Huriyet newspater on March 28th, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) held a rally in Ankara but were denied a permit to march in the city. Groups opposing the reforms publicly are now facing rising intimidation from police, as the AKP are adamant that no amount of protesting will stand in the way of the changes being implemented.

They are calling the new education bill “4+4+4”. It aims to increasing mandatory schooling by four years (from eight to twelve), to overcome the education deficiancies. 40% of 15-year-olds are unable to reach basic competence in mathematical literacy. “Turkey is ranked 32nd in scientific literacy out of the 34 O.E.C.D. countries in the organization’s Program for International Student Assessment”, the International Herald Tribune reports (23 March).

Ankara, 29 March: Police attack demonstrators of KESK (left public sector trade union) who protest against the "4+4+4" model

However, the main purpose of the bill is to re-invent middle schools and home schooling (4 years of primary school, 4 years of middle school with an option of teaching children at home and four years of high school instead of 8 years of primary school). The middle schools were traditionally a basis of religious influences. The proposed changes pave the way for a shift from general education to a mainly Islamic-influenced curriculum.

This plays into the hands of the Gülen movement. This network launched by Fethullah Gülen tries to spread conservative Islamic attitudes and infiltrate the state. It controls a significant part of the media in Turkey including newspapers, TV and radio stations. It runs a network of private schools and developed huge influence in Turkey. It has close ties to the prime minister’s AKP and aims to reform Turkey into the Islamic centre of the Middle East. It will be benefitting most from the planned changes.

Many Islamic conservative families would also be allowed to take the option of removing their young daughters from school to be "home-schooled".

This ties in with the general trend of Islamisation of society and its effects on women. As a result of these proposals, women would receive an inferior education and be confined to the home from a young age, leading to even greater gender inequality.

Fotos taken from video footage dispalyed here

Access to better education in Turkey is already linked to competitive examinations. Average students need additional private and expensive tutoring to be able to pass tests. This would then also apply to access to better middle schools. Children from poorer families would be badly affected. As the education system is only in Turkish, Kurdish children would be forced into this competition after only four years of education in a foreign language. Their educational opportunities would also be diminished.

Of course, even from a purely economic perspective, these proposals make no sense, because one of the most obvious barriers to growth in the Turkish economy is the shortfall of educated women in the workforce.

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