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Headed East - Turkey’s Education System (en_6377)

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  • Imam
  • Hatip
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  • Turkish
  • Reforms
  • Svante
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VOLUME 16 NUMBER 4

VOLUME 16 NUMBER 4 SVANTE E. CORNELL I n February 2012, then Prime Minister Erdoğan embarked on a wholesale reform of Turkey’s education system, and uttered the now famous statement that his government was aiming at “raising pious generations.” 1 The government hastily rammed a law package through the parliament termed “4+4+4” without allowing any consultation or debate. While the law nominally extended compulsory schooling by four years, making education compulsory for a full 12 years, in actuality it reduced compulsory public schooling. It also allowed for students to enter vocational schools – including Islamic imam hatip schools – after fifth grade rather than from ninth grade. Erdoğan’s Reforms The controversy over imam hatip schools is hardly new. Erdoğan’s reforms came exactly 15 years after the February 1997 military intervention, which targeted Turkey’s first Islamist-led government. In so doing, the military imposed comprehensive changes to Turkey’s education system, most prominently by increasing compulsory schooling from five to eight years. This abolished the booming sector of imam and preacher schools, whose original purpose had been to provide manpower for Turkey’s mosques and religious establishment. Prior to the 1997 coup, parents had been free to enroll their children in schools of their choice from sixth grade onward – including the imam hatip schools that often benefited from ample private funding, and thus had smaller class sizes and better infrastructure than many vocational or academic middle schools. 2 These schools are hardly Taliban-style madrasas: They provide a regular academic curriculum, but also an additional 13 hours per week of religious education. As a result of Islamist lobbying and fundraising at home and abroad, these schools had expanded exponentially over past decades. 3 By 1997, they enrolled one in ten middle and high school students. The imam hatip schools had become a parallel system of education, which increasingly provided the voter base and manpower for Turkey’s Islamist movement. 4 The 1997 intervention abolished these schools at the middle school level, and made it harder for graduates of imam hatip high schools to gain entrance to universities, with the exception of theology programs. 5 As intended, imam 1 “Dindar Nesil Polemiği,” [Pious Generation Polemics] Habertürk, 2 February 2012, http://www.haberturk.com/polemik/haber/712088-dindar-nesil-polemigi 2 Howard A. Reed, “Turkey’s New Imam-Hatip Schools,” Die Welt des Islams, Vol. 4, No. 2/3 (1955), pp. 150-163. 3 Nilüfer Narlı, “The Rise of the Islamist Movement in Turkey,” MERIA Journal, Vol. 3, No. 3 (September 1999), http://goo.gl/Lh6ODB 4 Sencer Ayata, “Patronage, Party and State: The Politicization of Islam in Turkey,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Winter 1996), pp. 40-56. 5 See discussion in Svante E. Cornell, “Turkey: Return to Stability?,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 35, No. 3 (October 1999), pp. 209-234, http://www.isdp.eu/images/stories/isdp-main-pdf/1999_cornell_turkey-return-to-stability.pdf 48

HEADED EAST: TURKEY’S EDUCATION SYSTEM hatip enrollment declined dramatically, from 11 percent to 2 percent of students. This is what Erdoğan’s 2012 reform sought to reverse. But it went further. As Orhan Kemal Cengiz has observed, the reforms turned “religious schools from a selective option to a central institution in the education system.” 6 The reforms introduced entrance examinations for all high schools except the imam hatip schools; implying that all students who do not qualify for other schools would “40,000 students were automatically enrolled in imam hatip schools reportedly against their will.” have no choice but to enroll in imam hatip schools. By 2015, Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, whose Turkey Youth and Education Service Foundation (Türkiye Gençlik ve Eğitime Hizmet Vakfı, TÜRGEV) foundation was put in charge of the expansion of the imam hatip schools, announced that the number of students enrolled had reached one million. 7 And no wonder: In August 2013, over 1,112,000 students took the placement test for high schools with an academic program; yet there were only 363,000 slots available. Those that did not make the cut had to choose between vocational schools, imam hatip schools, and a variety called “multi-program high schools,” whose availability was distinctively sketchy. 8 40,000 students were automatically enrolled in imam hatip schools reportedly against their will. 9 Erdoğan’s reforms extended beyond boosting imam hatip schools. The reforms also greatly expanded the religious content of regular high schools. The government extended the time students spend in a compulsory class on “Religious Culture and Moral Values,” which in spite of its name focuses entirely on Sunni Islam. 10 In addition, elective courses such as “the life of Prophet Muhammad” and the “Qur’an” were introduced into the curriculum. In total, that meant that students could receive up to six hours of religious education per week. Since the number of total hours of school per week was shortened, the proportional increase in religious education was even more marked. 11 In theory, religious classes are elective. However, the 6 Orhan Kemal Cengiz, “Erdogan’s Reforms Meant to Educate ‘Pious Generation,’” Al Monitor, 26 June 2014. 7 “Bilal Erdogan, Kocaeli’de Cami Açılışına Katıldı,” [Bilal Erdogan attended mosque opening in Kocaeli] AKhaber, 12 June 2015, http://www.akhaber.com/ak-parti/haber-7411240/ 8 Tülin Daloğlu, “Turkish Children Steered toward Religious Education,” Al Monitor, 19 August 2013; “Düz liseler kapandı yüzbinlerce öğrenci açıkta kaldı,” t24.com.tr, 16 August 2013, http://t24.com.tr/haber/duz-liseler-kapandi-yuzbinlerce-ogrenci-acikta-kaldi,237051 9 “Political Islamist ideals pushed via imam-hatip schools sparks anger,” Today’s Zaman, 25 August 2014. 10 For example, students are required to memorize a long list of Qur’anic verses and prayers, but no texts from any other religion. Christian and Jewish students continue to be exempt from the class, indicating that the government itself views it as an education in Islam. Efe Kerem Sözeri, “Zorunlu Ant Kalktı, Ya Zorunlu Dua?” Bianet.org, 1 October 2013. 11 For example, the class on “human rights, citizenship and democracy” is no longer being taught. “Kuran dersi 6 saate çıkıyor,” Cumhuriyet, 3 December 2014, http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/egitim/153983/Kuran_dersi_6_saate_cikiyor.html www.turkishpolicy.com 49

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