September 15, 2014

Discrimination hits education hard

Discrimination in education has become more visible with the start of this academic year as some private schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement, a faith-based social movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, have been prevented from accessing a government incentive.

According to an official list recently published by the Education Ministry, many high-achieving private schools were not eligible for financial support from the government.

The government announced earlier that it would provide credit, between TL 2,550 to TL 3,550, to students so that they could have a private education. However, the number of schools eligible for this incentive program was limited.

Parents of students who were not granted credit filed petitions with the government to challenge the list so that they could send their children to the school of their choice.

Many of the schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement were not included in the government list, indicating that the government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is keen to put pressure on the movement that has been critical of the government over issues of corruption, weak accountability and low transparency in governance.

While serving as prime minister, President Erdoğan repeatedly called on his supporters not to attend schools connected to the movement. In public rallies, he asked parents to pull their children out of these schools if they were already enrolled in them.

“The government singles out an enemy for itself in its each term and aims to remain in power by fomenting animosity against that ‘enemy.' This polarizes society to a great extent. It does not treat schools with equality. Its discriminatory stance does not even tolerate advertising for some schools,” said Eğitim-Sen's Karaca.

Karaca was referring to a recent move by İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, run by an AK Party mayor, to cover the billboard adverts of Fatih College, affiliated with the Hizmet movement, with a black tarpaulin although the advert space had been rented by the college until 2015.

Hizmet-affiliated schools in other parts of the country have also been victims of similar discriminatory practices. One branch of Fatih College in the northwestern province of Bolu had a road constructed in its courtyard by the Bolu Municipality, which is run by the AK Party, even though the school is surrounded by empty plots of land.

Erdoğan launched a war against the Hizmet movement last year following the exposure of a corruption investigation on Dec. 17 in which implicated some senior members of then Prime Minister Erdoğan's government. He accused the movement of orchestrating the investigation to overthrow him from power, although he has so far been unable to substantiate his claims with any evidence.

There are also claims of systematic discrimination towards principals who belong to unions that do not support the government. Furthermore, it is claimed that school principals and other managers are appointed by the authorities on the basis of whether they are members of the pro-government unions rather than their merit.

Union of Active Educators (Aktif Eğitim-Sen) Chairman Osman Bahçe claimed that 82 percent of newly appointed Ministry of Education provincial and district managers are members of the pro-government Education Personnel Labor Union (Eğitim Bir-Sen) and that this is a clear sign of favoritism.

He said: “Education is a giant institution. For it to be successful all the processes and steps taken need to be well planned and organized. Before the start of the school year, it is a must to complete the enrollment process, appoint the necessary administrators and teachers and for the content of education and school's infrastructure to be ready. Considering none of these preparations have been completed, it is possible to say that the 2014-2015 education year is beginning badly,” Bahçe told Today's Zaman.

He said it is crucial that the ministry quits illegal activities, such as profiling teachers or school administrators, exercising discrimination and favoritism and instead return to its official duty of educating.

Excerpt from the news article published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 September 2014, Sunday

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