Wednesday, 03 December 2014

ISTANBUL – With almost a million students joining Islamic schools this year, reflecting a sharp rise in Islamic schooling system in Turkey, education officials have also  taken measures to create more places for imam hatip schools, a move criticized by secular parents.

“We are against the governance of education by religious rules,” Ilknur Birol, spokeswoman for the “Don’t Touch My School” initiative, an umbrella grouping for angry parents, told Reuters on Tuesday, December 2.

“This system is not rooted in youth with a forward-looking perspective enlightened by science, but in a generation that values obedience.”

This school year, 2014-2015, about a million students have enrolled to join imam hatip schools, marking a sharp increase from only 65,000 in 2002 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to power.

The schools teach boys and girls separately, and give around 13 hours a week of Islamic instruction on top of the regular curriculum, including study of Arabic, the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

“When there is no such thing as religious culture and moral education, serious social problems such as drug addiction and racism fill the gap,” Erdogan told a symposium on drug policy and public health earlier this year.

Facing dilemma to create more imam hatip places, education officials have requisitioned parts of schools along with new buildings constructed to serve students.

The move, however, prompted protests from parents who want secular education for their children.

Filiz Gurlu, a parent at the Kadir Rezan Has school in Istanbul, protested the conversion of one of the school’s two buildings to imam hatip facilities.

“The library, laboratory, computer and music rooms were in the confiscated part, so the kids don’t have access anymore,” she said.

“Some classrooms have barely enough space … This is an unplanned move, kids just can’t simply fit in.”

Change for the Better

Rejecting parents’ criticism, imam hatip school officials confirmed that the changes were made based on people’s demand.

Speaking to Reuters, Huseyin Korkut, head of the imam hatip alumni association, said there was strong demand for imam hatip schools, according to surveys made in Kayseri, Konya and Erzurum provinces.

He said the body had urged the government to conduct a nationwide survey.

Isik Tuzun, a coordinator at the Education Reform Initiative, a think-tank at Istanbul’s Sabanci University, rejected his argument.

“Changes in school types were decided by local bureaucrats in a rather arbitrary manner,” he said.

“(It) has definitely been rushed.”

Nevertheless, reforms under the AK Party were seen as redressing the balance after decades of secularist rule.

Religious middle schools were shut in 1997 under pressure from the secularist military after an Islamist-led government was pushed from power.

A secularist government later tried to undermine religious schools by tweaking university entrance exam grading to make it more difficult for their pupils to gain access.

“Those were truly hurtful days. I hope God never makes us live through days like those again,” Erdogan told the school opening last month.

Primary school students no longer recite a deeply nationalistic vow at the start of each week beginning with the words “I am Turk”, a legacy of Ataturk.

University entrance grading was revised in 2011 so imam hatip pupils were no longer disadvantaged, and a ban on the Islamic headscarf in middle schools was lifted last year.

The Turkish model of Imam Hatip schools is fusion of Islamic and modern education as it contains as much arts and science classes as normal high schools do.

Originally founded to educate Muslim imams in the 1920s, the imam Hatip syllabus devotes only around 40 percent of study to religious subjects like Arabic, Islamic jurisprudence and rhetoric. The rest is given over to secular topics.

The network has incubated the elite of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party which came to power in Turkey in 2002.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who went on to study economics — and around one third of his party’s MPs attended imam hatip schools.

Apart from secularists’ anger, education experts asserted that the past decade under Erdogan’s AK Party has witnessed an improvement in average test scores for 15-year-olds.

“Turkey still has a long way to catch up with the industrialized world in education,” Andreas Schleicher, an education expert at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said.

“But if you just look at the amount of change that has happened, both on quality and equity, that’s still remarkable.”

Source: OnIslam.