September 21, 2014

Parents apply to Council of State against incentive discrimination

Many parents have filed legal complaints with the Council of State against a recent government decision to exclude certain schools from the list of private education institutions that students who are entitled to state financial assistance can enroll at.

The complaints were filed over the weekend.

In their petition, parents demanded a stay of execution for the government's decision to exclude schools affiliated with the faith-based Hizmet movement, a social movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, from the list of schools eligible for government incentives.

Earlier this year the Ministry of Education decided to promote private education institutions to bring the number of students educated in private schools up to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries' average.

To encourage equal educational opportunities the ministry announced that it would give some financial aid to underprivileged students who want to enroll in private schools and accepted applications for both students and private schools between Aug. 8 and 25.

A guide including the specifications and criteria for eligibility was released by the ministry on Aug. 7.

The schools were asked to rank themselves based on the ministry's criteria. The rank would then determine whether the school would be included in the incentive program. However, when the lists were released on Sept. 1, many schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement were not on the government list. Some believe this indicates that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is discriminating against the movement, which has been critical of the government recently.

Moreover, more than a hundred schools that were deemed eligible for government incentives were removed from the list the evening after the list was released. At first, officials from the ministry said it was a mistake, but then, seemingly having changed their mind, stated the schools were removed from the list following financial inspections.

According to parents who have applied to the Council of State, the removal of more than a hundred schools from the government's incentive list is against the Constitution and international conventions. In their petitions, parents argued that their children were initially given a right for incentives but that their right was later unlawfully violated by the Ministry of Education.

They further described the violation as against the principle of equality and right to education as well as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In Turkey, more parents appear to be sending their children to private schools this year, particularly after the government decided to shut down dershanes -- private tutoring institutions that prepare students for entrance exams. Private schools offer a far better education to students than crowded and generally ineffective public schools. The government's incentive envisages contributing TL 3,000 per child in several installments to the private schools in return for a reduction in fees.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 21 September 2014, Sunday

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