Turkey’s secondary education examination row has deepened, amid reports that thousands of students, including some non-Muslims, have been placed in Islamic vocational schools for the upcoming school year.
After the results for the national primary to secondary education (TEOG) examination were announced earlier this month, there were a number of reports that around 40,000 students had been placed in religious “imam-hatip” schools against the will of their families.
Education Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Muhterem Kurt confirmed that a total of 9,802 students had been placed in schools far away from the districts where they live, but stressed that there was “no need to panic.” Kurt told daily Milliyet that there would be an opportunity for re-allocation in mid-September.
According to the new system, students failing to get into their top-preferred school as a result of the exam are placed in schools nearest to their area. However, many claim that too many regular schools have been turned into imam-hatip schools in recent years, making it difficult for some children to avoid a religion-focused education even if they do not want it.
Eğitim-Sen, an education union, released a statement last week, calling on the Education Ministry to “take the objections into consideration” and to “not force any student to study in a type of school that they do not want.”
The chairman of Parliament’s Education Commission, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Mehmet Naci Bostancı was quoted on the BBC Turkish website as saying that students and their families had “options.”
“There is nothing against the people’s will. Everybody can get an education in the way they want,” he said.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Namık Havutça, also a member of the commission, said the government was aiming to convert more general schools into imam-hatip schools, thus making religious schools the norm in Turkish education system. Havutça added that options other than imam-hatip schools are particularly scare in Central Anatolian provinces.
According to a recent report by Sabancı University’s Education Reform Initiative, the number of imam-hatip schools has increased by 73 percent since 2010, a remarkable rise compared to technical high schools’ 23 percent rise and general Anatolian high schools’ 57 percent rise.
However, the Istanbul National Education Directorate claimed that only 13 general high schools had been turned into religious schools nationwide.
The deputy chair of education syndicate Eğitim-Bir-Sen, Ahmet Özer, said he “understood the concerns” but also claimed that they were “ideologically motivated.”
“When there is only one school in one area, I don’t find it appropriate to transform that school into another type. But if there is demand and there are a couple of schools in a region, we support one of them being changed into an imam-hatip,” Özer said.
He added that the 40,000 students reported as being placed in imam-hatips against their will was “not a big number” compared to the 1.25 million students who took the national test. He also insisted that the path to change the schools of these 40,000 students was not closed.
There are also reports that two Armenian students in Istanbul were automatically assigned to imam-hatip schools. One of them, identified as Arda Christof A., did not fill his preferences as he wanted to study at a private school, and was therefore automatically assigned to a Muslim school.
His father told daily Cumhuriyet that they believed it was simply a bureaucratic error. “I believe this situation happened for bureaucratic reasons. We laughed about it. I just believe the Education Ministry has to be more sensitive about it,” he said.
The parent of another student in a similar situation said she was “not surprised” by the situation. “My daughter has been registered in an imam-hatip school. We will request a transfer. I am working in the education business and I’m not surprised,” she said.