The Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vastly expanded the number of İmam Hatip (cleric-preacher) schools (İHL) from 450 to 4,500 nationwide in its 15 years in power, according to a report by The New York Times (NYT) on Monday.
Reminding that İmam Hatip schools teach the national curriculum but that roughly half their courses are religious and their core classes, those which a student has to pass to matriculate, are the Quran and Arabic, the NYT said: “Mr. Erdogan has vastly expanded the schools, from just 450 schools 15 years ago to 4,500 nationwide today. His government increased the budget for religious education this year by 68 percent, to $1.5 billion.”
As the elected head of the government, Erdoğan has every right to make the changes he wants, said Batuhan Aydagül of the Initiative for Education Reform, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to improve critical thinking in education. Eighty-seven percent of the school population is still in nonreligious schools, he noted. “This is not Pakistan.”
According to the report, especially among the aspiring middle class of İstanbul and other cities, parents have complained that President Erdoğan has aggressively pushed religious instruction in ways that are divisive, deceptive and damaging to educational standards.
“Some parents are pulling their children from the religious schools and sending them to private ones, or settling unhappily for technical and vocational schools. The Education Ministry has acknowledged that 69 percent of places in Imam Hatip schools remained unfilled as late as 2016. But the schools keep sprouting up,” wrote The New York Times.
“Fourteen percent of pupils, roughly 1.4 million, were studying in religious schools by 2017, said Halit Bekiroğlu, a spokesman for the İmam Hatip Graduates Association, adding that he would like to see the number rise to 20 percent in high schools and 30 percent in middle schools.
“But many link Turkey’s recent fall in international rankings, it dropped in the PISA index, which evaluates critical thinking, from 44th to 49th out of 72 countries, to constant disruptions and the focus on religion,” reported the NYT.