Education in Turkey: more religious, more nationalist

“Discrimination in Education Report” that is prepared by Migrant Rights Group (MRG) and Tarih Vakfı (History Foundation of Turkey) is released. According to the report, the education system has a religious and nationalist approach. Students with different religious beliefs and ethnicities struggle with the discriminatory practices. The report shows that the incentive scholarships that were given to the minority schools last year can only cover a small percentage of the minority schools’ expenses. The report also points out the status problem of minority schools.

The study that MRG Turkey Coordinator Nurcan Kaya prepared in collaboration with MRG and Tarih Vakfı has been carried since March 1, 2014. As part of this study, a “Network for Watching Discrimination in Education” is established with 17 NGOs. With the support of the NGOs, the discriminatory practices in education were traced. Four workshops were held. The report is prepared by a study that was carried through workshops, interviews with unjustly treated people, reports, court orders and the news reports. 

The paradigm should be changed

The report reveals the discriminatory practices that students face with in education. The report states that even though some steps were taken to resolve the inequality and discriminatory practices in education system from time to time, a fundamental paradigm change is needed to solve the problem completely and to establish equality in an effective way.

The report claims that some effective mechanism should be established in order to resolve the discrimination.

“In recent years, some steps were taken to resolve the problems in education. However, radical and permanent reforms for resolving all inequalities based on ethnicity, language, religion and belief are not realized yet.

The problems like the right to receive education in the mother tongue, respect to freedom of religion and belief, securing the accessibility of education and equality of opportunity, protecting the students that faced with harassment and other discriminatory treatments remain unsolved. The people who are not Turkish Muslims aren’t contained in the curriculum and textbooks or they are mentioned by negative references. In the current legislation, there are no effective legal or governmental mechanisms to fight against discrimination in education and the existing mechanisms are not being operated effectively.”

The system became religious after 2010

The report also points out the results of the frequent changes and regulations that were made especially in the period of AKP governments. According to the report, these regulations were not made to maintain the best interest of the students, rather they were determined by ideological approaches and since 2010, the education system is being used as an instrument to raise a “religious” and “nationalist” generation.

The report also points out the changes in the curriculum:

“It is remarkable that the religious references in the curriculum, textbooks and activities are increased in the recent years and it is observed that the ideology of “Turkish-Islamic” synthesis is redesigned and imposed on the students.”

Elective Courses

It is thought that putting the “Living Languages and Dialects” elective courses in the curriculum at the same semester with the courses like “The Life of Prophet Muhammad”, “Quran”, “Basic Religious Knowledge”, “Mathematic in Practice” effects the preference rate of these courses. According to the data from 2013-2014, only 0.70% of the students had chosen the “Living Languages and Dialects” course.

-  It is claimed that not exchanging ideas with the people who represent the language groups while preparing the content of the courses, not informing people about those courses and the negative attitude of school administration and local bureaucracy also affects the interest in these courses negatively.

-  First of all, while planning and offering the “Living Languages and Dialects” elective courses, the people who represent the language groups were never consulted. Thus, these courses were not developed collectively.

-  In order for this course to be offered in a school, at least 10 students must choose the courses. This limitation is considered as a major problem for the sparsely or under populated groups who haven’t the opportunity to show enough interest in learning the mother tongue.

-  The materials of these courses are prepared by institutions and NGOs, since the Ministry of Education doesn’t set any mechanism and budget.

-  The Ministry of Education hasn’t provided a budget for the preparation of the textbooks and course materials, and moreover, the institutions gave away the copyrights of the materials they prepared to the Ministry of Education.

-  All responsibility of raising teachers and preparing the textbooks and course materials is given to NGOs that carry studies on their mother tongues and an academic institution without proving any budget; compared to the way other elective courses are prepared, this fact causes a major inequality.

The children whose mother tongue is not Turkish are diagnosed with “learning disability”

The most striking problem that is discussed in various interviews and meetings is that the children whose mother tongue is not Turkish are diagnosed with mental disability and referred to the private educational institutions. It seems that this problem, which was reported by some NGOs before, maintains. Sometimes the reports that determines whether a student needs private education or not are prepared without considering the problems that stem from mother tongue and this a huge mistake that affects the education life and future of the students. People complain about the fact that the guidance centers make these evaluations in Turkish and they easily diagnose the children whose mother tongue is not Turkish with “learning disability.”

A music teacher tells that she realized that the only problem of an inclusive student is to have a different mother tongue after observing that student in class.

The problems of Roman students

The reasons why Roman children drop out or are absent from school are listed below:

-  Parents don’t give due importance to education because of their lack of education and awareness.

-  Marrying too young.

-  The fact that the children have to contribute to the family budget by working.

-  The difficulties in covering the basic education expenses (stationery expenses, school uniform, etc.)

-   Living in the houses with a single room, not having a convenient studying environment at home.

-   Going to school without having breakfast because of poverty and thus not being able to focus on the courses.

-   Most Roman children start school at the age of 14 or 15 as if they are 7-8 years old, because their identity cards are generally issued years after their birth, and this causes orientation problems both in Roman children and the other children in the class.

-   The fact that those children have nobody to help them with their home works.

-   The practice home works that are known as performance home work are done online. Since most Roman kids have no access to internet, they cannot do these home works.

-   Being faced with discriminatory and marginalizing treatment in school.

It is observed that only Roman students go to the primary school in a district where both Romans and other people live. The non-Roman parents in this district don’t want their children to go to school with Roman children, so they change their residential address on paper. Because of that, the school in that district became a Roman school and the school environment of Roman children is completely separated from the society.

One of the most important problems concerning the Roman children’s right to education is that most Roman students are sent to private educational institutions, even though they don’t have any mental disability.

Compulsory Religion Courses

The “Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge” course, which is compulsory starting from 4th grade, violates many human rights that are protected by constitutional law and international treaties like freedom of thought and faith, right to education and prohibition of discrimination.

A community that the education system ignores: Afro-Turks

One of the communities that are not contained in the textbooks is Afro-Turks. The fact that they have never been mentioned in the textbooks throughout the republic period and they are treated as if they don’t exist offends Afro-Turks. It is told that the children are harassed in the school because of their color and this treatment causes them to drop out.

Minority schools struggle with problems

One of the most remarkable parts of the report is about the situation of the minority schools. In the report, the status problem and the financial difficulties are pointed out. The problems of vice principal, supply of textbooks and the curriculum aren’t solved yet.

The status problem

Though the minority schools are not foreign or private schools, they are sometimes treated like foreign, and most of the time treated like private schools. There is no law that identifies the minority schools and regulates their rights and obligations, so they are subjected to the legislation of private educational institutions. Being treated like a private school, though they are not private schools that seek profit, is disadvantageous for these schools. The fact that they don’t have an authentic status sometimes causes bureaucratic problems and the negative effects of these problems are observed.


Because the “reciprocity principle” is implemented wrongly and unjustly while the policies about minority schools were developed, they are subjected to the policies that are in use in the western Thrace.

Instead of the policies that are used in the schools in the western Thrace, they should be subjected to the policies that are determined in the Treaty of Lausanne and other international treaties and used in the democratic countries, because unlawful policies and violations of rights of these schools can be prevented only in this way. This also indicates that the minorities are treated like “foreigners” and this attitude offends them.

Financial Difficulties

The minority schools, which are treated like foreign or private schools, receive no share from the state budget. The wages of the teachers and other workers, administrative expenses and other expenses like heating, electricity and stationery are paid by the schools themselves. The expenses are covered by the budget that the foundations set for the schools they are related and donations of the parents and third parties. However, some administrators tell that they have difficulties in paying the wages.

Incentive Support

In 2014, minority schools made us of the private school incentive scholarship regulation which is paid to the schools per student. The payment that the minority schools received is lower, because there are fewer students in the minority schools and this scholarship is determined by the number of the students, but this scholarship can only cover a small percentage of the expenses.

Armenian schools could have only covered a small percentage of their expenses with this scholarship. For instance, it is given 663.320TL scholarship to an Armenian high school with 222 students and yearly budget of 2.500.000TL, 


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Uygar Gültekin