New practices are being implemented. For now, only the practical aspects of the ongoing reform are being debated rather than the content: the prolongation of the obligatory period of education, the lowering of the age to start school, the physical capacities of existing school buildings, the modality of the university entrance exam, tuition fees and the number of teachers, for example.
We know that form is never independent from content. Unfortunately, Turkey is very slow in reforming the content of its curriculum. Almost everyone agrees that the quality of the Turkish education system is not in line with international standards as its main purpose remains to forge children’s identities around the Kemalist nation-state ideology. To be truthful, the education systems of many countries, including some EU members, are in a similar state.
It is hard to discuss the education system without discussing ideologies because throughout history those who have held political power have always wanted to spread their ideology through the education system. There is a significant amount of social diversity in Turkey and, as a consequence, there are different kinds of families who have completely different priorities about their children’s education. What is certain is that it is no longer possible in Turkey to defend that the education system must be used to produce only one kind of person. From now on, the content and quality of education will be determined by families’ choices and not by state authorities.
The reform package on curriculum content is not yet ready, so it remains too early to make comments on this subject, except for one particular matter. There exist two compulsory courses in every department of every Turkish university: the Turkish language and Atatürk’s principles. First, we have to admit that it is really odd to design academic curriculums through laws.
Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK), which was established to control all universities through a hierarchy rather than only coordinating their activities, has never really been reformed since its creation. It is unimaginable to keep YÖK as it is when the entire education system is being transformed. Changing YÖK means changing the structure of universities in order to create freer and more autonomous universities that will be able to make their own decisions and be administered in a more participative manner. All this depends on whether the law on YÖK reform is adopted by Parliament and, of course, it if is not canceled by the Constitutional Court once adopted.
YÖK reform aims to make sure academic staff members are no longer considered civil servants subject to Ankara’s orders and students little soldiers. In other words, the purpose is to change the entire mentality of the higher education system. The best symbols of the mentality that needs to be abandoned are these two particular courses.
The reform also aims to make sure governments no longer interfere with academic programs. In other words, if departments choose to continue offering these two courses in their programs, they will be able to do so, and vice versa.
What is sad is to see that the debate about these two courses is not being made from the perspective of academic liberties but only as a pretext to accuse some people of being anti-Atatürk or anti-secularist. This polarization is not good news for the future of the education reform debate. Let’s hope that the debate on the content of the curriculum, which is an urgent matter, will not be overshadowed by irrelevant political bickering.