ANKARA, Turkey — On March 20, 2012, controversial education reform in Turkey was passed into law. The bill lengthened mandatory education from eight to twelve years. Known as 4+4+4, the legislation now requires a compulsory four years of primary school, four years of middle school and four years of secondary school.
In 1997, according to The Turkey Analyst, a compulsory school was lengthened from five years to 8 after the Turkish military conducted a post-modern coup that prohibited children from being enrolled in iman-hatip or Islamic religious schools until the age of 14.
Iman-hatip schools were established in 1923 in accordance with the new Turkish republic’s strict adherence to secularism; the government maintained scrupulous control over all religious pursuits. The schools were instituted to offer training for imams and preachers in Turkey’s mosques.
Critics of education reform in Turkey fear the overhaul abandons Ataturk’s secular legacy and promotes a broader state focus on religious-based curriculum. In the Guardian, detractors have argued that parents are being denied a choice in the trajectory of their children’s education.
With exception to the iman-hatip schools, the implemented reforms require entrance exams for all high schools. The Turkey Analyst reported that in 2013, more than 1,112,000 students took entrance examinations for 363,000 spaces in regular academic high schools. Students who earned low scores on a proficiency test were forced to choose between secular vocational schools and iman-hatip schools, which are in remote locations.
In 2002, when the President Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party came to power, there were 65,000 students enrolled in iman-hatip schools. In 2013, the number of students in the schools increased to 658,000.
Countering the critics in a March 2016 Al Jazeera policy brief, author Bekir S. Gur, an Assistant Professor at Yildirim Beyazit University in Ankara and an adviser to the Minister of National Education in Turkey, argues that the policies implemented will result in a more inclusive and diverse educational system within Turkey.
He notes that for the first time in Turkish history, the government has introduced elective Kurdish courses in middle schools and passed legislation allowing the marginalized Kurdish population to open private Kurdish schools. In addition, a compulsory course on national security in high schools has been eliminated.
These far-reaching reforms may be suspended after a state of emergency was declared days after a failed coup attempt on July 15. This situation compelled the government to suspend or dismiss tens of thousands of teachers across Turkey. According to the Hürrıyet Daily News, 28,163 teachers were dismissed and about 43,000 have been suspended. But Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz has pledged that at least 70,00 teachers will be employed to replace those dismissed and suspended.
– Heidi Grossman