Duel raging over reform in education

Duel raging over reform in education

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Duel raging over reform in education

Opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu calls for compromises on the education bill. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said yesterday the government’s controversial education reform plan was more important than the constitution and called for a cross-party compromise on a fresh draft. 

“We seek social consensus for a new constitution. A commission was created for that. But the education bill is much more important than the constitution. Why don’t we seek conciliation?” Kılıçdaroğlu said at the parliamentary group meeting of his Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“I’m extending a hand to the government and calling for a compromise. Let’s make a new education law peacefully. Education is not a conflict area for political parties,” he said.

The bill has also come under fire from civic groups and pedagogues mainly for premature introduction of vocational classes – as soon as students complete four years of basic education – and for allowing students to opt out of school in favor of home study after eight years. Critics say the new system would encourage child labor and undermine the schooling of girls. The exclusion of pre-school from the 12-year compulsory program is also widely criticized.

Erdoğan adamant

However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stood behind the bill, saying it would erase “the last traces” of the “Feb. 28 process,” which had resulted in the closure of the secondary level of the imam-hatip religious schools. The bill would introduce a modern education system with a scientific base, he argued.

“I’m a graduate of an imam-hatip school, and I was not accepted to university. I had to also finish high-school. They raised barriers against us. They still cannot stomach me. Like it or not, the people of Anatolia are embracing and supporting me. This is how we mustered 21.5 million votes,” he said yesterday.

Erdoğan also criticized the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), which has been a critic of the law. 

“I’m not uncomfortable with their criticism,” said the prime minister, adding that TÜSİAD chair Ümit Boyner should re-check a report on education ordered by the business group. Criticizing the “Feb. 28 process” and also the education reform was “inconsistent,” Erdoğan said.

As the CHP vowed to use all means to block the bill, CHP deputy Engin Özkoç set a record as he spoke for 12 hours at Parliament’s Education Commission in protest, ending his speech in the pre-dawn hours yesterday. 

Commission chair Nabi Avcı denied Özkök restroom permission but relented when the lawmaker said he “would not be responsible for the consequences.” Avcı also turned down CHP requests for a dinner break. The CHP’s Muharrem İnce, however, soon showed up with hamburgers and Özkoç had one as Avcı agreed to a brief recess. Education Minister Ömer Dinçer accused Özkoç of “exploiting the rights of democracy.” The commission resumed debate yesterday afternoon.

Marking of Alevi homes 

In further remarks yesterday, Erdoğan promised a thorough investigation into the marking of Alevi houses in Adıyaman but slammed the CHP and the media for “exaggerating” the incident and “provoking” the Alevi community. 

“We are not the government of a certain belief or ethnic group. We are the guarantor of the rights and security of all people without any discrimination,” he said.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said he was “extremely” concerned over the incident and cast doubt on the official explanation that children painted the marks. “The perpetrators could be children, but the issue should be investigated to see whether there are instigators behind them or circles waiting to foment unrest,” he said.