08/24/2013, 00.00
TURKEY

Turkish government promoting Islamic schools at the expense of secular education

Out of more than a million applicants to secular high schools, only 360,000 have been accepted for the 2013-2014 school year. This favours the Imam Hatips, religious high schools centred on Qur'anic and Islamic studies. For education advocate Unsal Yildiz, the government is trying "to impose an Islamist mindset" on new generations and on society.

Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Turkish government is restricting access to secular schools to the benefit of Hatips Imam, Islamic schools that focus on Qur'anic studies. According to Unsal Yildiz, deputy chairman of Egitim-Sen, an independent trade union representing teachers and educators from primary to high school, Erdogan is using such schools to raise a new generation infused with Islamic values and erase the country's secularist past.

More than a million "students took the placement test this year," Yildiz said. "This stands as a proof that all these kids want to continue their education in 'academic high schools.' Despite that, the Ministry of Education allowed only 363,872 students to do that. This new system is forcing more than half of the students to continue their education in vocational high schools [or] Imam Hatips. . . . Such a forced imposition on students cannot be accepted."

For the Egitim-Sen chairman, the ruling party is more interested in raising an obedient new generation, and that is why religious education has become a priority.

In recent years, the Erdogan government has in fact shifted education funding towards religious schools, improving their organisational and material endowment, at the expense of other schools that are struggling even to find full-time teachers.

In a recent statement, Education Minister Nabi Avci claimed that families prefer to send their kids in growing numbers to religious education, but for Yildiz, this is not the direct result of personal choice but of government policies.

The facts appear to back his claim. In 2012 and 2013 for example, there were a total of 1,141 Imam Hatips. Of these schools, 42 were closed due to lack of student enrolment. Of the remaining 1,099 schools, 78 never had a student, and 461 were at half-occupancy. With such low enrolment, the authorities were forced to students into these schools by reducing access to secular schools.

Speaking on 6 August, Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar laid out the Justice and Development Party's views on the matter.

"This is a Muslim country," he said. "Ninety-nine per cent of the population is Muslim. We have a structure [i.e. Turkish society] that comes from history. Due to Turkey's geographical placement, we don't have inventors. Therefore, we need to put our focus in raising strong, well-educated and mid-level technical workers."

In ten years of power, Erdogan has tried to reshape Turkish society, favouring an outlook on life inspired by the country's Ottoman past. His government has done so in many ways, from funding blockbuster movies that highlight great Ottoman figures to banning alcohol or the use of lipstick by flight attendants on Turkish Airlines.

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