Reflecting a wider debate about Turkey’s identity and the role that religion should play in public life, there is controversy over the increasing number of children now going to Islamic schools.
Back to the future
Turkey is a secular state although most people who live there are Muslim. The national education system is also secular but there have always also been privately run Islamic schools. Until last year however, it was harder to get into university from an Islamic school than from a state one. But now that new laws have levelled the playing field, Islamic schools have become more popular.
The number of religious schools in Turkey is increasing all the time, but some people are asking questions about the role of religion in education, and the goals of some of these religious schools.
Islamic schools are single sex, and as well as studying the Koran, pupils also study all the other subjects on a secular school curriculum.
But whether Islamic schools are simply a way of preserving cultural traditions, or whether they have another agenda remains a topic of debate. Meanwhile, educationalists point out that improving teacher training and education generally is the highest priority.
The Faith Project was launched last year in order to help get more technology into Turkey’s state education system – which was ranked 32nd out of 34 OECD countries and in which around 40 percent of 15-year-olds lack basic numeracy skills. So far around 12,800 tablets have been distributed to around 52 schools across the country.
The project represents the largest single allocation of resources to education in the history of modern Turkey. In 323 secondary schools, 10,000 smart boards have been installed in classrooms. Tablet PCs are also being tested. In the end, there will be tablets in 570,000 classrooms in 42,000 schools all over Turkey.
In many remote village in eastern Turkey education is still seen as more important for boys than for girls. There is often only one primary school in the village and because the government has now made education compulsory until the age of 12 most children attend. But only around two thirds of girls go to secondary schools.
An NGO called ‘Dad Send Me to School’ has started a campaign which includes building a dormitory near high schools to help girls who live far away. The NGO also provides scholarships to help poor families with school fees. So far, 10,500 girls receive scholarships and 12 new schools have been built.
But education is only the start. Once qualified, finding a job still remains a challenge for many women in Turkey.