Why is the Turkish PM Erdoğan having difficulty?

Prof. Mumtazer Turkone
Prof. Mumtazer Turkone


Date posted: November 24, 2013

MÜMTAZER TÜRKÖNE

It may be surprising, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is boosting the polarization resulting from the prep school debate. Obviously, though, he is having trouble pursuing his goal.

He recently appeared on a TV program to defend himself at length. The prime minister tends to appear on such programs in order to explain his actions to the general public. This time, he wanted to justify his plan to close down prep schools. He took the time to give lengthy answers to reporters’ questions about the prep schools debate just before he flew to Russia and he directly engaged in polemics with the Gülen movement. This indicates that the heat inside his party is very high. It seems that the closure of prep schools will affect the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) more strongly than the Gülen movement.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, government spokesperson and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç gave the impression that the government would let the debate cool down. He announced that the matter would be debated with stakeholders instead of the bill being drafted behind closed doors at the Education Ministry. However, the prime minister refuted his comments, saying the bill would be sent to Parliament expeditiously. Thus, this became another instance in which Arınç was contradicted by the prime minister and it also suggests that this matter is being hotly debated within the AK Party. The prime minister is very powerful, but his power may not be enough to pass this bill. Indeed, the bill may face objections not only from the opposition, but also from AK Party deputies. More importantly, President Abdullah Gül may veto the bill. The president’s veto on such a controversial matter may trigger a number of new developments that could lead to the reshuffling of the political scene.

The problem is not as simple as the prime minister tends to define it. By shutting down prep schools, the prime minister says he seeks to put more emphasis on public schools. But the closure of prep schools will not eliminate the demand for prep schools if the examination system is not changed. A sentence in the statement Arınç made in his capacity as government spokesperson reveals the government’s contradiction. Arınç offered the following justification for the plan to shut down prep schools: “Our schools should provide a quality education. No additional measure should be needed for this. Families should be spared this burden.” This is the essence of the matter and the main theme on which everyone should agree. This means that if schools were capable of providing the quality education prep schools are offering, the problem would be solved. So then, what’s the problem? Why are schools not capable of providing a “quality education?” Who hinders them? To further clarify the situation, we must ask: Will schools immediately start to provide a quality education the moment prep schools are closed down? Is there any plan for the transition of public schools to be able to provide a quality education while the prep schools are being shut down?

The problem is the exam system that functions completely outside our education system. We do not trust our teachers’ assessment of our students and we don’t rely on their rating of students. We do not take them into consideration. Rather, we hold a central exam system to assess our students before they enroll in higher education. By removing exams from the sphere of schools, we remove education from schools to a place outside schools. Thus the regulatory authority for our education system is not the Education Ministry, but the institution that arranges those exams. Even if you provide the highest quality education, this does not change. You cannot put schools at the center of education if you don’t change the exam system. When you close down prep schools, the demand for them will find a way to have its needs met. Are prep schools at all hindering the provision of a quality education?

For this reason, the plan to shut down prep schools is being discussed not as part of the educational agenda, but as part of the political agenda. What political distinction can prep schools generate? How can this debate lead to polarization between those who oppose to the plan and those who support it? There is one answer to this question: the ruling party’s search for more power. The government is not closing down prep schools. Rather, it is trying to eliminate an obstacle to its power. Will it be successful?

Source: Today's Zaman , November 23, 2013


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