Frontal assault on free enterprise in Turkey: The case of prep-schools

Abdullah Bozkurt
Abdullah Bozkurt


Date posted: November 18, 2013

Abdullah Bozkurt

The way Turkey’s power-hungry Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his small cadre of yes-men advisors, most of whom are subscribers to politically charged Islamist ideology, are running the country as a shadow government has taken the nation to a breaking point, where the pressure on the Cabinet members and deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has intensified beyond the limit.

The opposition voices in the AK Party parliamentary group, with several deputies openly questioning Erdoğan’s decisions on several issues, and cracks in the government shown by government spokesperson Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç chastising Erdoğan over differences of opinion on co-ed housing are recent evidence of the wounds Erdoğan and his advisors are inflicting on their own government.

The public outrage over a controversial government plan to ban all privately run college prep schools, which have been in operation for decades as educational institutions that supplement the failing public schools when there is fierce competition among students to enroll in top-notch colleges and universities, is just the latest example of how Erdoğan and his yes-men misread the mandate given them by the voters to run the country until the next election. By attacking prep schools and threatening them with forced closure by law, Erdoğan hopes to hide the miserable public education record that saw the reshuffle of five education ministers and six major overhauls during the AK Party’s three terms. The colossal mistakes the AK Party government made in education with fast-tracked reforms that did not take into account the concerns expressed by education specialists, parent-teacher associations, unions and other stakeholders have frustrated millions of parents.

Underage drinking, smoking and drug use and abuse are rampant problems in the Turkish education system and the government’s track record is not so good when it comes to addressing these problems. According to a survey of 32,000 students in İstanbul released earlier this month, 45 percent of ninth graders smoke cigarettes, 32 percent drink alcohol and 9 percent use drugs. The survey was conducted between 2010 and 2012 in ninth grade classes at 154 high schools in all of İstanbul’s 39 districts. It was led by Professor Andres Pumariega, chair of the department of psychiatry at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, New Jersey, on the request of the İstanbul Police Department and Provincial Education Directorate. A government-backed education project, the Movement to Increase Opportunities and Technology (FATİH), launched at pilot schools in February 2012 to fulfill an election promise for the 2011 elections, has not yet been completed and is now being investigated for corruption claims. The shortage of teachers and lack of sufficient school facilities has not been resolved, either. Creating a villain out of privately funded prep schools that have proven to be successful sanctuaries for parents to get extra tutoring for their kids in order to boost the children’s chances of getting into better schools has served as a useful tool in shifting the blame away from the government. Erdoğan is abusing this issue as a distraction from his own failures.

What is more, Erdoğan fired a warning shot across the bow of the Hizmet movement, which operates some one-third of the more than 3,500 prep schools, hoping that the movement would fold under the pressure and shy away from criticizing the government on lingering corruption, the lack of bold reforms, the stalled EU membership process, the failed constitutional work, its intrusion in people’s ways of life and privacy, blunders in foreign policy and the weakened transparency and accountability in governance. Judging from the remarks of Mr. Fethullah Gülen, who has vowed to remain steadfast against these threats, urging his millions of followers to never be shaken, not to give in to despair and to be patient, I believe the movement is keen on maintaining its principled stand on these issues and committed to upholding the very values that make this nation great. Erdoğan is gambling away his good fortune on the eve of the elections because his attempt to ban these educational institutions will certainly backfire on him, possibly costing him his presidential ambition.

It was also widely reported in the media that the witch hunt apparently targeting Turkish citizens who do not subscribe to the Islamist ideology of Erdoğan has been going on for some time, and many moderates, including people who sympathize with Gülen’s teachings, were terminated, suspended or moved to low-key positions. The specter of political Islam now looms large and dominates the government bureaucracy as the AK Party sacrifices its democratic credentials with the rapid erosion of pluralism at the expense of diversity in government agencies.

[Excerpted from below article]

Source: Today's Zaman , November 18, 2013


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