Education bill: Where did we start, where are we now?
İSMET BERKANWe are going through a very interesting legislative process that in the future should be studied as a case analysis in political science books.
The amendment bill increasing compulsory education to 12 years in 4-year tiers was submitted to Parliament as a motion of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group, not as a government bill. For such an essential subject, this is an unusual method. It was also obvious from the start that Education Minister Ömer Dinçer is not 100 percent in agreement with the bill, but his reaction got lost in the shuffle, among the reactions of the public, nongovernmental organizations and opposition parties.
When the reactions of the opposition and some NGOs against the bill amounted to categorical rejection, and did not include a constructive proposal, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took a decisive stance on the law. The bill, which could have been left to sleep in committees or in the general assembly for its first few days, was instead taken care of by the prime minister himself, and Ömer Dinçer did not say, “No, this can’t happen.” Instead, some inconvenient provisions were trimmed from the bill.
It was a very interesting situation, because the real and effective reaction was coming from inside the AKP, namely from the government. At that stage, what the government needed was constructive and scientifically based proposals, especially from NGOs and from members of the public involved with education, not categorical opposition.
Prime Minister Erdoğan’s character has in a way become the AKP’s character. The prime minister does not like to be seen to be openly acting upon the words of the opposition, or any individual or corporation. Therefore, if he has to hear criticism on a given topic, he prefers to listen to it behind closed doors, not in public. The same situation prevailed with this education bill: Constructive criticism and suggestions were taken into consideration, while the rest was left aside.
At present, one of the most criticized portions of the bill, a clause that would have provided students with the opportunity to leave school after the first four years, has been eliminated. A “home-schooling” option that would be valid for the last four years has also been seriously restricted. A provision directing students into vocational training in the second four years has been loosened, and a model including elective courses has been adopted.
Two aspects of the bill are still drawing intense criticism: It is being widely demanded that pre-school education should be mandatory, and the formula should read 1+4+4+4, and secondly that the age at which children begin school should be 72 months, not 60 months, and this should be specified in the law.
My opinion is that these last two aspects are not such a big deal. The point this bill has reached between the start and the end of its journey will feature well in textbooks.
İsmet Berkan is a columnist for the Hürriyet daily, in which this piece was published on March 9. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.