The initiative has obviously started a new discussion on education in one’s mother tongue. The bill he referred to was one of the last laws of the military period, enacted in 1983. The title and two articles of the law were amended in 2002 and 2003 in accordance with EU harmonization. These amendments made the teaching of different languages and dialects in Turkey possible.
In its current form, the bill restricts the teaching of the Kurdish language or any other language to elective courses within the education system. Article 2a of the bill offers only private courses on these languages. However, it is critical to teach languages in public schools.
The same article mirrors Article 42 of the Constitution, which reads, “No language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution.”
All of this indicates there is still a long way to go in terms of legal changes before Kurdish and other native tongues are inserted into the education system.
But there are also practical issues on how to insert these languages into the education system. One of them concerns the difference between education in a mother tongue and teaching a mother tongue. Teaching a mother tongue refers to a single course. However, education in a mother tongue involves the entire curriculum. When the approach is limited to teaching a mother tongue and its treatment as some sort of foreign language, it is only normal that private or elective courses appear as a remedy. However, even Kurdish parents who voted for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) ask for education in their mother tongue.
But the idea is not to replace the Turkish national education system with a Kurdish national education system, either. The aim is to introduce a multilingual system wherein children are allowed to learn modern tongues. A child can learn three to four languages at the same time between the ages of 3 and 5.
Use of the Kurdish language in a monolingual country like Turkey would make huge contributions to the modernization of our education system -- which shapes young brains, according to Kemalist dogma -- to our understanding of each other and even to learning the Turkish language better. Goethe said, “He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.” If Kurdish, Greek and Armenian children grow up bilingual or multilingual, others could as well.
Linguists confirm that bilingual and multilingual people are intellectually more developed than those who rely on one language alone. Their brains are more extensively used for the storage of different words and their pronunciation. It is further argued that multilingual people have a greater capacity for perception and learning and yet are open to change and diversity. Monolingual people have limited capacity to understand others and are prone to be more aggressive.
The issue of education in Kurdish has been studied for a while. I have noted the following: works of the İstanbul Kurdish Institute; proceedings of a symposium on education in a mother tongue by Eğitim-Sen; the textbook “Kurdish Language and Literature in Secondary Education” by the History Foundation; a report by the Education Reform Initiative on bilingualism and education in Turkey; and the studies by the Diyarbakır Institute for Political and Social Research (DİSA).
Şerif Derince of DİSA recently wrote: “We have held workshops that were attended by teachers and experts at which we considered the demands of parents and students. We have drafted a report offering multilingual education models that could be used in the education of Kurdish students with different needs and characteristics in Turkey. … Students would be able to learn the Zaza and Kurmanji dialects of Kurdish, Turkish and another language during a nine-year education period.”
There is no Turkish institution that offers education in the Kurdish language yet. On the other hand, the Antep-based Dünya TV offers a program that provides serious Kurdish language training. But such education in schools exists elsewhere. The main curriculum, as well as history, geography and literature courses, in Iraqi Kurdistan is offered in Kurdish at schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement, while science classes are taught in English; Turkish is taught as a foreign language. Kurdish has also been taught for decades in the Netherlands and in Sweden. All this represents significant experience. What is missing in this picture is the presence of experts in the national education system and, without this, no solution is possible.