ISTANBUL - As children in Istanbul packed their bags this week to start a new school year, protests broke out against the controversial “4+4+4” education reform, recently implemented by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Large crowds gathered outside the Istanbul imam hatip religious schools on Fatih Street to protest the new education system that extends mandatory education to 12 years: four years of primary school, four years of middle school, followed by four years of either secondary school or vocational training.
People opposing the reform fear that the new system will increase the number of children attending the imam hatip religious schools, which qualify as vocational training.
Members of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have also criticized the reform for depriving children of a basic scientific and humanities education. Students will be allowed to drop out of school after eight years, which critics say will only encourage child labor and prevent girls from pursuing higher education.
Protests also broke out in the capital city of Ankara this weekend, and up to 14 people were arrested for holding unpermitted demonstrations for the cause.
Nearly 17 million students and 800,000 teachers began Monday to implement the new education system.
The reforms are the brainchild of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who slammed the previous education system for having “non-democratic” origins. In 1997, after the military overthrew an Islamist government, new secular leaders shut down many of the religious imam hatip schools.
Classes such as “The Koran and the Life of the Prophet Muhammad” have been added to the secondary school curriculum, and female students will be allowed to wear the headscarf during these classes.
“Human rights, citizenship and democracy” and “games and physical activities” have been added as compulsory classes. Texts books have been adapted for the new curriculum and 187 million copies will be delivered to students for free.