CHP leader Kilicdaroglu met with over 30 experts and academics in pedagogical studies to discuss the impact of the AKP’s proposed “education reform”. After receiving advice from the leaders in the discipline, CHP is resolute to oppose the bill. First, let’s hear what independent observers say about this “reform”:
Turkeyfaces numerous domestic challenges, but reforming the country’s out-of-date education system is without a doubt one of the most significant ones. No matter how you slice it,Turkey’s performance in the field of education leaves much to be desired. Guven Sak, a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News and head of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), laid outTurkey’s education woes in a recent piece:
Let me split the problem into three components. First,Turkeyhas a young population. The average age is still around 28.5. That is a good thing. With that much potential,Turkey’s European convergence should have been through education and training. Neither the European Union nor our government had the wisdom to design the process accordingly. Secondly, our population has only 6.5 years of schooling on average.Turkeyhas the youngest population with the poorest education performance among the top 20 economies in the world. That bodes ill for our future. We have a population of middle school dropouts. On top of that, OECD PISA tests show that our students’ academic skills leave much to be desired. Our kids are among the worst around the block, which any decent economist will tell you, puts us straight into the middle income trap. Thirdly,Turkey’s female labor force participation ratio is the lowest, even among Muslim majority countries. Only one among four women participates in the workforce. Why? Because of low educational attainment.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has recently introduced draft legislation that would reform Turkey’s educational system, most significantly increasing the level of mandatory schooling from eight years to 12 years. But the proposed legislation is being heavily criticized, accused of making the situation worse rather than better, particularly in terms of getting students to stay in school longer. As Nicole Pope points out in Today’s Zaman, the proposed new structure of the Turkish education system could open the door for students being put on a vocational track (i.e. apprenticed) at the tender age of 11. Writes Pope:
While stating its goal to increase compulsory education to 12 years, the government plans to divide this period into three four-year segments: primary, middle and high school levels. The debate centers on the middle segment, which would be carved out of the current eight years of primary. More than the division itself, it is how the government intends these four years to be used that has proved controversial.
Government officials claim more flexible options, including vocational training, are needed at this level. There is plenty to be said in favor of a well-regulated system of apprenticeship and vocational training at a later stage, but children should not be forced on such a path as early as 11. And even manual workers these days need a solid foundation of general knowledge to compete in the global market, something they couldn’t possibly gain in only four years of primary school. As the ERG, one ofTurkey’s leading education organizations, lowering the age for apprenticeship to 11 might even violate international rules on child labor.
The proposed reform also offers students the option to opt out of the school environment and turn to “open education.” Home schooling is, as we know, offered in many developed countries, often in strictly regulated conditions. But the practice remains controversial almost everywhere because it deprives children of the very important socialization experience that school attendance provides. This function of the school system is particularly important to helpTurkeynarrow its wide gender gap. If women are to become more involved at all levels in society, young children of both genders have to learn to interact from a young age.
But even more concerning, critics say, is what the draft bill might mean for girls’ education. According to the proposed legislation, parents would be allowed to home school their children after they’ve completed their first four years of school. The worry is that will open the door for parents, particularly in rural and conservative parts ofTurkey, to keep their daughters from going to school. As Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink writes on her blog, some people are calling the draft bill the “Come on Girls, Be a Bride” law — a play on “Come on Girls, Go to School,” the name of a government campaign designed to end the disparity in boys and girls enrollment in Turkish schools. The proposed law, Geerdink writes:
….means that girls will have a shorter school career. Now, compulsory education lasts eight years, starting at age 7. The AKP has managed to increase the number of girls enrolling in school, but not necessarily the number of girls graduating from primary education: there are many drop-outs. Girls are needed at home, or there is not enough money to send them to school, or they need to contribute to the family income. Or it’s about time they got married, or at least prepared for it.
What will the effect be of a new school system that makes it very easy to stop sending your girl to school after she has completed the first block, at age 11? It gives parents a logical moment to reconsider their choice of sending their daughters to school or not. When their daughters are eleven years old, they will have to choose whether or not to enroll them in the second block. In the current system, there is no such opportunity before the eight years of compulsory education are finished. Result: girls will drop out earlier ().”
Some foreign commentators went even in further in their bashing of the education reform bill, calling it “incremental Islamism”, “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is personally committed to a more decidedly Islamist ideology than has been typical of Turkey as a whole. And now, changes in government policy indicate that Turkey may be taking incremental steps away from so-called secularism toward becoming an overtly religious state.
According to a February 24 story for ANSAmed,Turkey’s Prime Minister is pushing for “reforms” in the nation’s school system that would reduce the required amount of formal schooling in Turkey, while simultaneously increasing the prominence of Koranic schools:
The goals of an education reform bill introduced by the Islamic party of Turkey’s Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been characterized 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.
As noted in the ANSAmed article, the educational “reform” would reduce the required years of formal education from eight years to a mere four years of school. At the same time, Islamic schools would be promoted:
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 favor of religious institutions which now would take over some of the functions of the grammar schools.…
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”().