The bill, which seeks to increase the duration of current compulsory education from eight years to 12 was submitted to Parliament on Feb. 20 by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Parliament's National Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Commission continues to discuss the bill, which would divide 12 years of compulsory education into three stages -- four years of primary school, four years of middle school and another four years devoted to high school -- formulated as the “4+4+4 system.”
According to recently revealed details of the bill, most of the curriculum of the first stage of compulsory education -- primary school -- will not change, while the curriculum of the second stage -- middle school -- will be completely renewed. The middle school curriculum will predominantly consist of elective courses that will be determined by the Ministry of Education's Executive Board of Discipline.
According to the bill, religious education will be taught in elective courses, contrary to the current system, in which religious education is compulsory. As part of this amendment, education on Alevi beliefs will also be given in elective courses in predominantly Alevi regions. AK Party Kocaeli deputy Fikri Işık, who is also the head of the commission, told Today's Zaman that Alevi students in predominantly Alevi regions, such as Nevşehir's Hacıbektaş district, should not be forced to take Sunni religious classes, and added, “We should teach classes about their own faith, so contrary to compulsory religious education at schools, which is also included in the current Constitution, I think various religious elective classes should be made available for students according to their preferences or religious beliefs.” Apart from the Alevi faith, there will be also optional courses for other faiths, such as Christianity and Judaism.
Finding the optional religious courses satisfactory, pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Deputy Chairman Hasip Kaplan told Today's Zaman that there are various faith and beliefs in Turkey and that the BDP supports an education system which is respectful of other belief systems.
Atilla Kart, a CHP Konya deputy and a commission member, told Today's Zaman that no one can be discouraged from learning about their own faith, so the CHP will not oppose elective religious classes being provided at schools.
Criticizing the AK Party approach to preparing the bill, Kart said the bill was submitted to Parliament without discussing it satisfactorily and in an imposing manner. Kart added that it is very normal for debates to erupt over the bill as it was first introduced because the government is trying to impose a bill that will have a great impact on the country's future generations.
Apart from elective courses on religion, there will also be a wider range of options for students to choose from in other areas, such as music, sports and foreign languages, according to their interests.
The possibility of more optional foreign language courses being available in schools has sparked some debate over whether the Kurdish language will also be taught as an elective course in middle school. However, Education Minister Ömer Dinçer denied that Kurdish will be offered as an elective course, saying the issue of teaching Kurdish was an entirely separate issue.
Işık also responded to allegations raised by the Republican People's Party's (CHP) that the education bill indicated that the government was pursuing a policy of political “revanchism” for the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military intervention, when the middle-school sections of imam-hatip high schools, which offer Islamic education, were closed. If the bill is passed, students will be able to switch to vocational schools, including imam-hatips, after fourth grade.
“We are not acting in retaliation for Feb. 28. … The aim of this bill is to have a more flexible education system that will provide more choices to parents and students, just like the education systems of well-developed foreign countries. This new bill also offers an education system that will not restrict the students' talents and preferences,” Işık said.