Turkey: Erdogan's reforms: less schooling, more Koran

Muslim veil knocking at door of Parliament amid criticism

24 February, 18:58

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA, FEBRUARY 24 - The goals of an education reform bill introduced by the Islamic party of Turkey's Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been characterised by opposition parties as aiming to halve the length of compulsory schooling to promote more Koranic schools and veil wearing. The opposition secular press, trades unionists and other commentators, have for a month now, but especially over the past two days, been aiming their criticisms at the Islamic tendencies of the reforms of alleged faults in the country's education system. Today the countries confederation of industry, the TUSIAD, has joined in the chorus of protest. The bill would in effect abolish the present laws obliging children to attend school for eight years, halving them to the period of primary education alone.

Although this radical move is softened by the offer of distance learning, critics are calling it an incentive to quit school, especially in the less developed eastern areas of the country, and in cultural milieu where the ban on wearing the veil inside school premises meets strongest resistance. The ban comes from the secular, Western stamp given to Turkey's constitution in the 1930s by the country's founder Kemal Ataturk. A reduction in the number of years of compulsory education would also promote the so-called ''Imam Hatip Lisesi'', the religious Islamic schools, like the one in which Mr Erdogan was educated. Following its third electoral victory in succession, with nearly 50% of votes cast, Erdogan's single-party pro-Islamic government has already abolished the minimum age requirement for attendance at such schools and this reform would encourage children to give up attending their secular secondary schools in favour of religious institutions which now would take over some of the functions of the grammar schools.

Some areas of the secular press, such as the daily Milliyet, as well as pro-Islamic organs such as Yeni Safak and the official mouthpieces of Erdogan's AKP party, stress how the reform aims at correcting what was in effect a penalisation inflicted on Koranic schools following the ''post modern'' military coup of 1997, which overthrew Islamic premier Necmettin Erbakan, a role-model for Erdogan. Eight years of compulsory schooling was introduced then with the aim of undermining the Koranic institutions. The reform debate opens, indeed, as the 15th anniversary of that coup approaches (February 28), the highly secular daily Cumhuriyet wryly observes.

Without returning to accusations of a 'hidden agenda to re-Islamise Turkey, Cumhuriyet links the reforms to the a proposal recently expressed by the premier ''to raise a pious generation,'' a ''religious youth''. This phrase, accompanied by the rhetorical question, ''Did you expect the conservative and democratic AKP party would bring up a generation of atheists?'' sparked off a heated debate over the past three weeks, in which all of the moves made to re-introduce wearing of the veil in the country's schools as well as moves to favour Koranic schools (moves that have often been blocked) have been recalled. The criticisms of TUSIAD, which is calling for the bill to be withdrawn, are based on a more technical consideration of the step backwards in the level of education of the upcoming generations. The move is seen as being linked to the increasing pressure on young girls in country areas to give up their schooling and the dangers deriving from a reduction of the age for starting an apprenticeship to eleven.(ANSAmed).

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