Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Turkey's newly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, aided by his faithful new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, begins his term of office with a major overhaul of the country's education system.
Although adopted a year ago, the reform plan, which has largely gone unnoticed, begins this year and extends Islamic religious education to all school grades. Only religious high schools (Imam Hatip Lisesi) offered such an education as part of their training programme for the country's Muslim clergy. At the same time, the reform extends compulsory schooling from Grade 8 to Grade 12.
Erdogan's new Turkey, which plans to celebrate the centenary of the secular Turkish Republic founded by Kemal Ataturk in 2023, is making Islamic religious education compulsory in both primary and secondary school, for 12 grades. Until recently, the latter was available only in religious high schools starting in Grade 9.
Another significant change is that religious school graduates can now apply to university faculties that train students for top public administration positions. Even Turkey's current president, who studied Business Administration and not political science, was kept out because he was graduate of a religious school.
It seems clear that the school system AKP leaders dream about and planned for is inspired by existing religious high schools.
The next step in the reform involves teaching Arabic, even as a second language, to enable students to understand the Qur'an, as Turkish lacks words that help understand the Holy Book.
However, Turkey's Armenian and Orthodox schools are not required to provide Islamic religious education to their students who number 2,000 and 250 respectively.
By contrast, those who do not want to attend public schools to avoid religious education will have to go to private schools, which are a privilege of the wealthy because of high tuition fees.
People have to get used to the idea that 52 per cent of Turks, plus another 10 per cent from the ultranationalist Turkish party, believe in Erdogan's Islam, this according to the newspaper Radikal.
Recently in Anatolia, a local school principal, whose tasks also includes assigning students to classes, required Jewish students to register for Islamic religious courses because of their Turkish-sounding names.
Historically in fact, many Jews (and members of other ethnic groups and religions) chose to Turkify and Islamise their names and surnames out of sheer need for survival in view of the rules established following the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, based on the notion that Turkey was ethnically homogenous as a Turkish and Muslim nation.
Following an outcry from world Jewish leaders, Turkish authorities suspended the measure in the case of Turkish Jews.
However, many wonder about what will happen to the 200,000 Christian refugees from Syria who are at present in Turkey and their children who will soon start school in Turkey.