The rise of the ‘imam-hatip’ religious high schools

The rise of the ‘imam-hatip’ religious high schools

The education report for 2011, issued the other day by the Education Reform Group (ERG), once more demonstrates that Turkey has to a great extent solved its schooling issue at the elementary education level. 

According to the report, the schooling rate of children reaching school age was 98.41 percent during the 2010-11 academic year and this rate reached 98.67 percent during the 2011-12 term. Next year, it is probable that Turkey will reach 99 percent in this figure. 
Still a problem at high schools 

When it comes to secondary education, however, the ERG points out the fact that schooling remains a problematic area. In this category, the schooling rate, which was 66.07 percent during the 2010-11 term has recorded a limited increase to reach 67.37 percent in 2011-12. 

Nevertheless, the increase in the rate of girls continuing onto high schools is more meaningful compared to the same figure for boys. This rate, which was 63.86 percent in 2010-11 for girls, has risen to 66.14 percent in the academic year we have just concluded. 

A map in the ERG report shows that a major imbalance unfortunately continues among regions on the issue of access to secondary education. In such a way that in the significant portion of the provinces in central western Anatolia, Thrace and east Black Sea, the schooling rate is above 80 percent. In the group of the Aegean, Marmara and central Anatolia, this rate is between 70 and 80 percent. This is followed by provinces that lie mostly in central Anatolia and eastern Anatolia that range within the band of 50 to 70 percent. In the majority of our Southeastern provinces the registration rate of children at the age of secondary education is below 50 percent. 

Religious vocational schools up 7 percent 

The EGR report also points out that major changes are being experienced in enrollments in religious vocational high schools. 

The first one of these drifts is the fall in the ratio of regular high school students to the total number recorded between the academic years 2010-11 and 2011-12. This figure has dropped from 29 percent to 25 percent. 

A major portion of this difference is due to the shift to academically selective Science and Anatolian High Schools. The ratio of this category has risen from 21.4 percent to 23.5 percent. 

The share of vocational and technical education has moved from 46.3 percent to 48 percent. However, a major portion of the increase here is due to registrations at imam-hatip high schools (religious vocational high schools). The ratio of students to the total registered in those high schools has risen to 7 percent from 5.9 percent. 

Toward a dual structure? 

When we review the changes in the ratios of the types of high schools during the 10 years under Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule, we see that regular high schools have consistently fewer students. 

According to Education Ministry data, the rate of students enrolled in vocational high schools has increased in 10 years from 34.8 percent (2002-2003) to 48 percent (2011-12). Registration in regular high schools has decreased from 51.9 percent to 25 percent while the share of academically selective high schools has risen from 9.7 to 21.2 percent. Private high schools have increased to 3.5 percent from 2.3 percent. 

These figures show that one of the most dramatic drifts was in the imam-hatip high schools. The number of students in these high schools has seen a definite upward curve during the AK Party era. So much so that the 2.6 percent share of these high schools with 64,534 students in the 2002-03 term has gone up to 268,245 students in the 2011-12 term with a 7 percent share. 

In this framework, a dramatic fall was experienced with the Feb. 28 era. This process closed down the junior high school branches of the imam-hatip schools, while graduates from these schools were given less favorable coefficients on the university entrance exam. As a result of this, the number of students enrolled in these schools was 180,372 in the 1996-97 academic year, but this had fallen to around 64,000 by the 2002-03 term. 

We can easily predict that with the removal of the coefficient practice and with the addition of junior sections to imam-hatip schools, this ratio will continue to climb increasingly. In this case, it will not be totally wrong to say that a dual structure in the education system will be thoroughly embedded, with one of the pillars of the structure being religion-focused. 

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on June 8. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.