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Islamic Schools Bill Irks Secular Turks

Published: 11/03/2012 05:19:04 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Plans by Turkey's ruling party to reform the education system have sparked a new uproar in the country, with secularists accusing the Islam-roo (more)

CAIRO - Plans by Turkey's ruling party to reform the education system have sparked a new uproar in the country, with secularists accusing the Islam-rooted Justice and Development (AK) party of seeking to increase the Islamic influence in schools.“The Turkish system of education has been searching for ways to rid itself of these military elements that were forced on it,” Education Personnel Labor Union Secretary-General Ali Yalçın, told Sunday's Zaman on March 11.

“This is what the current government has been doing for years and they have changed many things to save the education system from militaristic influences."

Introduced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK party, the new bill, known as "4+4+4" or "relay education" aims to lengthen compulsory school education from 8 to 12 years.

It proposes lowering the minimum age for entering school from 7 to 6 and divide 12 years of compulsory education into three levels: primary school, middle school and high school.

Proponents of the bill say it aims to repari the results of the military “soft coup” in February 28, 1998, in which the secular military began a campaign to push an Islamic-led government from power.

Seeking to minimize Islamic influence on children, the generals forced the government to implement a principle of eight years of basic education without the possibility of changing to a vocational school.

That move meant that special state-run schools created to educate Muslim imams, known as Imam Hatip schools, were no longer available as middle schools, only as high schools.

Imam Hatip schools, from which Erdogan himself graduated, are currently attended by about 240,000 of the roughly four million high school students in Turkey.  

Immediately after announcing it, secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) attacked the bill, accusing the government of planning to increase the influence of Islamic schools.

Egitim-Sen, a teacher's trade union, said Erdogan's real intention was not to provide children with a better education.

"The real aim is to open the way for Imam Hatip schools, which the AKP has always regarded as its own back yard," the union said in a statement on its website. Needed Repair

Denying secularist accusations, education officials say the bill aims at improving the deteriorating educational system in the Turkish schools.

“The bill has no any political aspect at all; the AK Party government is struggling to cleanse the education system from any traces of past coups,” Yalçın told Sunday's Zaman.

“Actually the system of eight years of compulsory education, which was adopted under the influence of Feb. 28 unarmed military intervention, was politically motivated; the new 4+4+4 compulsory education system is not.”

Sharing a similar view, Batuhan Aydagul, coordinator of the Education Reform Initiative at Istanbul's Sabanci University, said the present education system was in need of repair.

But, he opines that the government did not allow time for a broad debate and consensus-building on the bill."The way the government presented this reform made many people think that it is totally driven by politics," Aydagul told The National newspaper.

He said the government was right "to a certain extent" to tackle problems of the present, military-inspired system.

"But there is an impression that the whole system is being sacrificed for rather political motives."

Relations between the secularist military and Erdogan's socially conservative AK party have been fraught since the second won power in 2002.

The two sides engaged in a verbal war for the past two years over allegations that military officials were planning a coup against the ruling party.Police arrested scores of officers over "Operation Sledgehammer," an alleged plot against Erdogan's government in 2003.

The officers say Sledgehammer was merely a war game exercise, accusing the government of fabricating the evidence against them.About 250 military personnel are in jail, including 173 serving and 77 retired staff. Most are charged in relation to Sledgehammer.

Reproduced with permission from