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Turkish reforms entangle education (Quotes Batuhan Aydagül, MA ’02)

October 12, 2014
The New York Times
Batuhan Aydagül, MA ’02, director of the Istanbul-based think tank Education Reform Initiative, discusses the group's recent report on Islamic schools in Turkey.
By Aysegul Sert

The term “New Turkey,” meticulously coined and methodically delivered by the government to penetrate the public psyche, and reiterated during the campaign for Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid for the presidency, continues to reverberate long after he has won.

The slogan encompasses a series of political, economic and social reforms aimed at creating a dominant and conservative Turkey, and promoting the emergence of a religious lower and middle class. Following a restructuring of its institutions, Turkey’s secular image has come under scrutiny. Secularism in schools has been undergoing a transformation that signals a reticence on the part of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., to separate religion from politics.

According to a report by the Education Reform Initiative, or E.R.I., a nongovernmental education think tank in Istanbul, there has been a 73 percent increase in the number of religious vocational schools, known as imam-hatip, in the country since 2010. While the schools offer a general academic curriculum, they also provide compulsory Islamic teaching, principally Sunni, which represents the majority of the country’s 77 million population.

More than 16 million students began the school year in September. As a result of a new placement policy, nearly 40,000 of them, including some non-Muslims, found themselves automatically assigned to religious vocational schools, often against their will. Many parents have demanded transfers, a difficult bureaucratic task on several counts, but mainly because of a lack of vacancies. Some critics argue that this reflects a deliberate assimilation project aimed at nationwide Sunni indoctrination.

“Education is a strong tool to control or to drive demands,” said the director of E.R.I., Batuhan Aydagul. “If you narrow down the supply of education on one level and expand imam-hatip-type schools on the other, there is a risk of creating circumstances where children can’t easily find placement in a regular school. They find themselves — not necessarily out of choice but out of obligation — in an imam-hatip. We are concerned that there is reverse discrimination.”

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Read the GSE's profile of Batuhan Aydagül.

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