Parliament's National Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Commission discussed the bill, which would divide 12 years of compulsory education into three levels, submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
According to the bill, the current eight years of compulsory education, which includes only a primary school education, will be lengthened by another four years of high school. There will be four years of primary school, four years of middle school and another four years devoted to high school.
Currently, primary school is an eight-year, uninterrupted basic education that includes middle school, and therefore middle school is eliminated. If the bill becomes law, middle schools will be re-established with the basic primary school education separated into two levels.
The current system of eight years of compulsory education came as a result of the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997, in which the military overthrew a coalition government led by a now-defunct conservative party. The National Security Council (MGK) of the time, which was dominated by the military, insisted on strong control over private schools, dormitories and foundations with suspected links to religious or conservative groups. Many foundations were shut down shortly after Feb. 28 on the grounds that they were controlled by groups with roots in reactionaryism.
At the same time, the new law on education increased compulsory education from five years to eight. Although this practice had some positive impact on education, most observers noted that the real aim of the change was to kill imam-hatip schools -- religious vocational schools that were hated by generals.
It was later revealed that the generals of the time ordered politicians to make it compulsory for elementary school to last eight years instead of five, so that students could only go to imam-hatip schools when they were older, resulting in fewer students choosing to go since they would be at a disadvantage in the university entrance exam.
There have been ideas to increase the number of years of compulsory education and separating it, for example, into five years of elementary school, three years of middle school and four years of high school. Some educators thought that this system would give more choices to parents and children who would like to channel their talents early on.
Finally, the government came up with the formula of 4+4+4 instead of the current 8+4.
According to columnist Mümtaz'er Türköne, the government's most recent formula is more realistic since it could better respond to the needs of the economy, and it could better equip individuals.
“The number of years of basic education was increased to eight exactly 15 years ago. Military tanks came out, guns were drawn and a coup occurred. On Feb. 8, the National Security Council met for hours and great generals threatened the government with newspaper columns [with stories of how reactionaryism was threatening the country]. The government capitulated and compulsory education increased to eight years,” he wrote in the Zaman daily on Thursday.
Similarly, Education Personnel Labor Union's (Eğitim Bir-Sen) Secretary-General Ahmet Özer wrote on the union's Internet site that the new bill if it becomes a law would correct the mistakes made 15 years ago:
“The most important decisions regarding education were made in the ‘assembly of generals.' For them, education was so important, it should not be left to educators.
“Whether or not it is pedagogically suitable, whether or not there was the necessary infrastructure, what society thought about the change was not important. They did it to finish off the imam-hatip schools, seminary faculties and Quran courses. Therefore, they closed down the middle sections of the vocational schools,” Özer wrote, adding that imam-hatip graduates were also subjected to discriminatory practices.”
On the other hand, Education Personnel Union's (Eğitim-Sen) Secretary-General Mehmet Bozgeyik says that the current bill -- if it becomes law -- will have a negative impact on girls' education and give way to child labor.
“The 4+4+4 formula is not going to increase the number of girls going to school; on the contrary, it would do the opposite, he said as quoted by the Anatolia news agency, while in Ankara where Eğitim-Sen members held a demonstration protesting the decision of the government, which would like to pass the bill.
The protestors, accompanied by some lawmakers from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), held a poster stating, “No to market-oriented, backward, racist education.”
Bozgeyik was also critical because he said that the 25-article bill was prepared hastily without recommendations from civil society. He added that an article of the bill reduces the age of apprenticeship to 11, which would lead to child labor after a child gets only four years of education.
“This would lead to exploitation of child labor,” he said.
Ahmet Toptaş, a lawmaker from the CHP, promised that he will work against passage of the bill in Parliament.
Meanwhile, acclaimed Professor Üstün Ergüder, director of the Education Reform Initiative (ERG), held a press conference on Thursday in which he criticized the bill.
According to ERG, if the bill becomes law, it will give way to “Açık Öğretim” (Open Education or Distance Education) putting gains regarding girls' education at risk. In addition, ERG defends the view that since the new system would break up the compulsory years and introduce more choices of schools, it would make it necessary for children to take exams at an earlier age to make those choices.
“Divisions in basic education will deepen societal inequalities. The apprenticeship age will be reduced to 11, leading to the spread of child labor,” ERG added.
However, AK Party parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Nurettin Canikli defended the bill, saying that it is going to help girls' education if it becomes law.
“On the contrary, the eight-year compulsory education system prevented girls' schooling because five-year primary schools in villages were closed down after that law came into effect in 1997. And families are not willing to send their children, especially girls, to distant schools outside of their villages. This was an expected result when you look at Turkey's societal structure. This was the biggest blow of the uninterrupted education system,” he said in Parliament on Thursday.
“With the new system that we support, buildings will be physically separated at each level. That means four-year schools will be reopened in villages. And families who will be sending their girls to schools in villages will be more willing to send them to middle and upper level schools,” he added.
Also, in Parliament, opposition National Movement Party (MHP) deputy Zuhal Topcu said that they did not understand the goal of the bill as teachers, parents of students and society in general did not know its content.
CHP deputy Ali Serindağ said that they support extending compulsory education but with a 1+8+4 formula.