Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Tuesday that Kurdish will be offered as an elective language course in Turkish schools following recent reforms to the educational system. Erdoğan, as anticipated following earlier remarks in the same vein by Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, announced that elective Kurdish language classes would be introduced to the school system, speaking at a parliamentary meeting of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Tuesday.
The government recently introduced changes to the education system dividing the total educational period into three consecutive stages of four years each, formulated as “4+4+4.”
The prime minister said at any school with the minimum number of students to run a class Kurdish will be offered as an elective course. He also emphasized that, depending on the demand and need, other languages of Turkey can be taught at public and private schools across the country under the new system. Elective courses to be introduced under the new system will include, in addition to language classes, courses designed to improve writing, communication and presentation skills.
Erdoğan provided details about the proposal, which the Ministry of Education is currently working on. He said the drafting process was near completion, adding that it had been created after painstaking and careful research into international education systems, particularly those of the EU countries. Erdoğan noted that the new system will also include longer class hours for students in total, with the hours allocated to subjects to change, with some seeing increases and others reductions.
“Currently Turkish is taught 11 hours a week in the first three years of school, then for six hours in the fourth and fifth grade, and five hours in the seventh and eighth grades. Now Turkish classes will be taught for 19 hours a week in the first two years, then eight hours in third and fourth grade, six hours a week in fifth and sixth grade and five hours for seventh and eighth graders,” he said.
The prime minister remarked that similar changes have been made to all compulsory classes, adding that the Human Rights, Citizenship and Democracy course will be taught as a compulsory class starting at fourth grade.
Students will also have the opportunity to select at least four elective classes after fifth grade, Erdoğan said. The Fundamental Religious Knowledge course will be offered as an elective, and students of different faiths will also be able to learn about their religions in this class. “Related subjects are already part of this class’s content for our Alevi citizens,” he noted.
In addition to compulsory language courses, elective language courses will also be offered, the prime minister said. There will be other elective courses available based on the student’s interests, covering a range of topics from science, mathematics, arts and social sciences.
Erdoğan said the introduction of elective Kurdish classes was the result of requests from Kurdish citizens, adding, “And they [the Kurdish community] should watch as a cautionary tale who will say what against this historic step taken by the AK Party.” He said supporters of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were already criticizing the step and attempting to undermine it.
The first reaction to Erdoğan’s announcement came from Gültan Kışanak, co-chairperson of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). She said, “Everybody knows very well that basic language learning is completed by age 7 or 8. Mother language is a fundamental right. It should be used uninterruptedly with no restrictions. Nobody can employ mother tongue usage as a negotiating topic.”
The BDP wants Kurdish students to be taught all classes in Kurdish. The government accuses the BDP of supporting the PKK. The BDP denies any such links.
“Teaching a people their own language as an elective course is cruelty,” Kışanak said. “Let’s make it an elective course, let’s send them to Mr. Prime Minister and have them learn [Kurdish] as an elective course. What he is saying is, ‘Go to school, learn Turkish, become assimilated, and then learn your own language.’ This crime against humanity is being conducted at the hands of the AK Party.”
She said if a people did not have the chance to use their own language as the language of education they would not have a chance to pass it on to future generations.