The Turkish Parliament passed a law in March increasing the duration of compulsory education from an uninterrupted eight years to 12, divided into three four-year stages. The law is popularly known as the 4+4+4 law.
The education reform allows children to enroll in other types of educational institutions -- namely vocational high schools -- after the first four years.
The 4+4+4 education reform made possible the reopening of imam-hatip secondary schools, which were closed down following the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup, when the military forced the conservative-led coalition government to resign on the grounds of rising religious fundamentalism in the country.
There were 40 imam-hatip schools in İstanbul before the education reform. Now, 113 new imam-hatip high schools and middle schools have been opened in İstanbul to meet anticipated demand following the reform.
The number of imam-hatip schools in Turkey, which is currently 550, is expected to rise to 1,000.
Hüseyin Korkut, head of the Imam Hatip Graduates Association, said the imam-hatip schools would increase the quality of the education system, but that it is important to have qualified teachers working in these schools.
According to the 4+4+4 education reform, an elective course on the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad will also be available at middle schools and high schools in the new academic year.
Courses on the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad will be offered for two hours each a week, while a course on fundamental religious knowledge will be offered for one or two hours a week. Students will take copies of the Quran to the classroom, and text from the Quran will be included in books prepared by the ministry. The students will work from the original Quran, which is in Arabic, rather than from a Turkish translation. Female students who take the Quran course as an elective will be allowed to wear headscarves.
In places predominantly populated by Alevis, a course on Alevism will be offered as an elective for students. If there is a demand for a course on the Kurdish language it will also be offered as an elective.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's announcement in June that Kurdish would be offered as an elective language course in Turkish schools following the reforms to the educational system was a landmark move.
The prime minister said that any school with the minimum number of students to run a Kurdish class could run it as an elective. He also emphasized that, depending on demand, other languages of Turkey could be taught at public and private schools across the country under the new system. In addition to language classes, elective courses to be introduced include courses designed to improve writing, communication and presentation skills.
A student will be able to take elective courses for eight hours per week.
In the new academic year, controversial national security courses, which have long been criticized for breeding militarism in the public by indoctrinating them with the belief that there is a continued threat against the country, will no longer be offered to students.
The government abolished these courses, which were once taught by military officers, in January.
The new academic year will also bring firsts for disabled students as accessibility of schools has been improved.
Since high school education was made compulsory, the Ministry of Education has moved to improve the accessibility of high school buildings for physically impaired students.
The ministry has launched a project to improve accessibility at 1,000 high schools around Turkey. A large part of the project has been, or will be, conducted in İstanbul, which at present has approximately 45,000 physically handicapped students. So far within the scope of the project ramps have been built in 340 high schools in 39 districts of the city, to make the entrance and exit of high schools easier for physically impaired students using wheelchairs. Toilets and sinks in the bathrooms of those high schools have been renovated for easier access.
Door handles have been moved to a height accessible for students in wheelchairs, and disabled lifts have been installed in these schools. The renovations are largely complete, and the ministry plans to finalize them before schools reopen.
The education reform raises the age for children to begin school to 66 months (5.5 years) from 72 months. Students who turn five will be able to begin school if their families wish, with the provision of a medical report showing that they are fit to begin school.
Younger students and older students who once shared the same facilities in the eight-year compulsory education system will be separated and receive education in different buildings. This is intended to prevent abuse of the younger children by the older ones, and acts of violence at schools.