Turkish headscarf skirmish goes to elementary level
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 10/22/2010 12:00:00 AM | İZGİ GÜNGÖR
Wearing headscarves to school could damage young girls, some experts have said following incidents in which elementary students came to class with covered heads.
Young girls wearing headscarves to school could suffer psychologically and educationally, some experts have said following incidents in which students wore the Islamic head covering to elementary schools in the provinces of Mersin, Adana and Konya.
Coming in the wake of the Higher Education Board, or YÖK’s, relaxing of restrictions on wearing headscarves at the post-secondary level, the incidents have sparked debate about the effects of such practices on young students.
“Primary and secondary school children who wear the headscarf and attempt to enter classrooms are not mature and of full age. They are not expressing their own will. They were probably sent to school that way by their parents,” Zübeyde Kılıç, chairman of the Education and Science Personnel Union, or Eğitim-Sen, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
“Attending class with a headscarf is likely to affect children negatively as they will be in an environment in which the majority doesn’t wear the headscarf,” Kılıç said. “They may face exclusion and questioning by their peers who are uncovered. The abstract debates [about the issue] may also challenge children in the mental sense.”
YÖK recently ordered academics not to dismiss students with headscarves from classes at public universities and announced that students could cover their heads during YÖK exams. The moves, which came amid thus-far unsuccessful negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties over lifting the headscarf ban in state-run universities, have drawn criticism from Turkey’s chief prosecutor, who said the board is violating the Constitutional Court’s 2008 decision on the matter.
[HH] ‘Children affected negatively’
The incidents in the elementary schools were “provocative,” Burhan Kuzu of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, told daily Habertürk on Friday. The AKP is not attempting to remove the ban in elementary and secondary schools, Kuzu added, saying the rules for these schools and other public institutions are evident.
Speaking to daily Radikal, Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu drew attention to the timing of the incidents, implying that they were attempting to influence the current political will to remove the ban in universities. The law is clear and headscarves will not be allowed in elementary schools, Çubukçu said, adding that the ministry sent memos to schools in all provinces telling officials not to admit girls wearing headscarves.
Tension over the issue is likely to negatively affect the entire educational process, particularly parents, children and teachers in areas where religion is a sensitive issue, said Kılıç from Eğitim-Sen.
“Since the headscarf is not allowed in elementary and secondary schools, those who attempt to enter classes with their headscarves will be a minority and may face exclusion,” she said. “But this will be true for uncovered students if they end up being a minority as well.”
[HH] ‘Individual incidents’
İsmail Koncuk, chairman of the Turkish Education Union, or Türk Eğitim-Sen, agreed that the incidents at elementary schools were provocative and were individual moves that aimed to harm efforts by the ruling and opposition parties to solve the issue in universities.
“There is no demand to wear the headscarf from students aged 6 to 11 who haven’t even completed their mental development,” Koncuk said. “I believe it is parents who send their children to school with headscarves and that there are groups who organize them.”
Child psychiatrist Emine Zinnur Kılıç, a professor at Yeditepe University, said the basic need of primary and secondary school children is for education and socialization.
“Parents prioritize their needs in line with their religious belief,” she said. “[Young students] attending classes with headscarves may stem from family pressure and fears created by parents.”