Turkish minister of education signals possibility of controversial gender-segregated schooling

Turkish Education Minister Yusuf Tekin in a controversial remark on July 12 emphasized the need to consider gender-segregated schools to cater to conservative families, sparking outrage among political opposition and union workers. 

According to Turkish media, Tekin said many conservative families were reluctant to send their daughters to school where they would be educated side-by-side with male pupils. “To encourage these families to send their children to school, we should consider opening gender-segregated schools,” he said.

Tekin first brought up the possibility of a gender-segregated education system in 2014, when he was the Ministry of Education undersecretary. According to Tekin, such an arrangement would increase schooling among girls. 

However, the political opposition has expressed concern, saying gender-segregated schools would lead to segregation in other areas of social life. Lale Karabıyık from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) argued strongly against a segregated education system, stating that 98 percent of girls were currently being educated. 

“The government is trying to create an education system that mirrors their conservative and Islamist values; however, their arguments do not resonate with social realities,” she said. “Even conservatives do not see a need for a segregated schooling system. If anyone wants this, it is the ultra-Islamists, which make up a very small percentage of Turkish society.” 

Karabıyık said if there were a small number of families that did not send their daughters to school, it was up to the ministry to penalize them. 

Education unions said the minister’s remarks reflected a conservative turn in the nation’s education system. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) forged political alliances with Islamist parties during the May 14 presidential election. One of their allies, Fatih Erbakan, who leads the Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP), emphasized the need for an “Islamic curriculum.” 

“The education system should be centered around raising children who are mindful of religious values, who fear God and who are spiritual,” he said. 

The Eğitim-İş education union criticized the statement and said the ministry’s desire for gender-segregated schools was not innocent. “Many schools are currently collaborating with Islamic cults in organizing extracurricular activities,” they said in a written statement to Deutsche Welle Turkish service (DW). 

“The minister of education is clearly supporting these collaborations, and his remarks are another example of making education more conservative,” they added. “This government is well known for making it seem there is a mass social demand for certain policies and reforms. But it is only a handful of [influential] people who are asking for them. So what happens if one day a cult leader decides mathematics classes are un-Islamic?”

Eğitim-İş urged the ministry to instead educate those people who do not send their daughters to school on gender equality. 

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), 98.4 percent of girls and 98,5 percent of boys complete elementary school in Turkey. More than 95 percent of both genders complete high school. 

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