Turkey: Islamic school reform passed

Erdogan uses parliamentary strength, vote preceded by protests

30 March, 19:53

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA, MARCH 30 - Realising a decades-old objective amid protest from the secular opposition, Turkey's moderate Islamic premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed through a reform today that favours the Koranic institutions, introduces an hour of Muslim religious instruction and exposes girls to danger of being kept at home away from school. Thanks to an overwhelming parliamentary majority thanks to a near 50% majority at last June's general election, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has pushed through a controversial education law with 295 votes in favour and 91 against. Three days of street protest preceded this vote, two of them being supressed by the use of water cannon and tear gas and opposition parties raised banners before leaving the lower house. Known by the formula ''4+4+4'', the reforms prolong compulsory schooling from eight to 12 years but divides this period up into three segments of four years: in this, opposition parties see a danger of promoting an exodus from schools and into child labour and above all into the "Imam Hatip Lisesi", the Islamic religious schools such as the one attended by Erdogan and, according to sources, four out of ten ministers in his government. These schools are in the tradition of closed Madrases banned by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who gave Muslim Anatolia a modern, European direction. Although they returned, the Imam-Hatip were penalised by the generals following the anti-Islamic military coup of 1997, preventing the admission to them of children (boys) aged under fifteen. At his access to power in 2003, Erdogan obtained a reduction to 10 for boys studying to be Imams. The introduction of optional Islamic religious h (the Koran and the life of Mohammed) to secondary schools has also been criticised over the past week as further Islamisation, although opportunities for Christian, Hebrew and other religions are provided for. This alleged turn to religious schools was presaged by the premier in January in a speech speaking of ''religious youth''. Until now, the 540 religious institutes have had around 300,000 children (just 2% of Turkey's 18 million school children. The showdown in parliament has been so fierce that three weeks ago opposition MPs came to blows with those of Erdogan's party. Also criticised by the lay wing of Turkey's business community (Tusiad) is that part of the reform allowing for distance education, which poor or Islamic families could use to send boys out to work or keep girls veiled at home. The Prime Minister has rejected such criticisms over the past week, saying that this ''historic'' reform education-inspired reform was needed to heal the ''wound'' inflicted by ''non-democratic forces''. This was a reference to the military coup of 1997 that ousted premier Necmettin Erbakan, Erdogan's mentor. (ANSAmed).

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