School entry age lowered to 6 in compulsory education bill

March 01, 2012, Thursday/ 15:49:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

The parliamentary sub-commission in charge of a new compulsory education bill has finished making amendments to the draft law and lowered the starting school age from 7 to 6.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) submitted the new educational bill, which increases current compulsory education from eight years to 12 to Parliament on Feb. 20. Parliament then sent the new bill back to the parliamentary sub-commission for reassessment and for the commission to make amendments, which it completed on Wednesday.

One of the amendments that stands out the most is the age for children beginning school being changed from 7 to 6. If the bill is passed, parents will be able to apply for their children to start school in the September of the year they turn 5.

Another amendment made by the commission concerns the issue of the minimum age required to carry out an apprenticeship. In the original compulsory education bill, the age necessary to do an apprenticeship was lowered from 14 to 11, but the commission has decided to restore the original minimum age, meaning children below the age of 14 will not be able to work as an apprentice anywhere.

The commission also decided not to make preschool education compulsory due to problems with infrastructure, such as a lack of schools, preschool teachers and teaching materials.

A proposal was also put forth by the AK Party at a parliamentary sub-commission meeting in Ankara on Tuesday to address concerns that the new bill could have a negative impact on girls' education. The proposal, which was accepted by the commission, suggested that changes be made to the bill so that only children who have completed eighth grade are allowed to receive education through distance learning to prevent parents taking their daughters out of school at an early age.

Under the original compulsory education bill, students were allowed to participate in distance learning after completing only four years of primary school, when most students are around 10 years old. This led to a heated debate not only among educators but also among opposition party deputies, who claimed that the new bill could harm the education of young girls. According to critics, some parents -- particularly those with conservative beliefs -- do not allow their daughters to attend school for longer than the legal minimum, primarily in the eastern and southeastern parts of Turkey, where attendance rates for girls at school are already below the national average.

According to the bill, the current eight years of compulsory education, which includes only primary school education, will be lengthened by another four years of high school education. The compulsory 12 years of education will be divided into three levels -- four years of primary school, four years of middle school and a further four years devoted to high school education.

In its current form, education consists of eight years of uninterrupted primary school education that includes middle school education. If the bill is passed, middle schools will be re-established and primary school education will be separated into two levels.

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