No change in the law was needed for quite a big change that was made in Turkey’s education system: the YÖK (Higher Education Board) decided that graduates from normal high schools and vocational high schools have the same chance of entering a university based on their scores in the ÖSS (on which I wrote a blog recently). Previously, for students from vocational high schools a lower coefficient was used to calculate their final ÖSS score, so it was harder for them to enter university.
A special kind of vocational highschool are the so called Imam hatip schools, religious high schools that educate future imams. The system of using a lower coefficient was introduced in 1997, after the government of Islamist Prime Minister Erbakan and his Welfare Party was forced by the military to step down. By using a lower coefficient for all vocational high school students, the mostly conservative religious Imam Hatip students were also denied easy access to university. The aim was to prevent them from getting a degree in, for example, politics or any other subject that would prepare them for a good position in the state apparatus. In other words, the ÖSS scoring system was used to prevent the rise of an Islamic state.
The YÖK has for a long time been a very strict secular institution, but ever since the AKP came to power, more pro-AKP board members have been appointed. The head of the YÖK is now also an AKP guy, which made it possible to change the rules again. Strict secularists fiercely oppose the change in the system, saying this is yet another step towards the Islamic state the AKP wants to establish. And religious people and AKP followers (who are not 100 percent the same group) are happy: the AKP has promised for a long time to change the system back to what it was before, and now finally it’s done. They say this is the end of discrimination against vocational high school students in general and Imam Hatip students in particular.
Is it really the end of discrimination? I’d say it’s the end of discrimination against conservative, religious young men. They have equal chances now to get a university education. But what about the girls who graduate Imam Hatip Schools? They wear headscarves, so for them universities are still a no-go area. By the way, the headscarf ban at universities was introduced at the same time as the ÖSS system using different coefficients for vocational high school students. So in my opinion, if you really want to abolish discrimination, do it for both sexes and let the girls enter university too.
On the other hand, what are girls doing in the first place at a school that prepares students to become an imam, as it is not a profession that girls can follow anyway? And many boys in Imam Hatip also don’t want to become imams – and they can’t anyway, since there are on a yearly basis less than 3000 new imams needed in Turkey, and half a million graduates leave Hatib Imam schools, approximately half of them men. According to one study, more then 70% of Imam Hatip students go to such a school because they want to learn more about religion, while only 9% want to become imams. And even though the Imam Hatip schools were established in the late 1940’s to educate modern religious leaders, the boys at Imam Hatip are anything but modern. According to one survey, only 19% of the male students agree with the statement that women should work, 16% agree that women can travel independently, 83% agree women belong in the home, and 60% think women should share their ideas only with their husband. And these young men have been complaining about discrimination because they couldn’t enter university? Men who generally wouldn’t even allow their wives to travel alone or to share their ideas in public?
Of course, students that are sent to Imam Hatip schools come from conservative families, who choose such a school because they want an education that fits their believes and that seperates boys and girls. So you can’t entirely blame Imam Hatip schools for producing future imams that apparently have conservative ideas. On the other hand, should the state provide schools that serparate men and women? Maybe Imam Hatip Schools should not be vocational high schools at all, and be only accessable for those who want a carreer as an imam, since that was their original aim (and please, find a way to modernize the views of the boys too). But can we expect such a thing from an AKP government or from a YÖK that is lead by an AKP-appointed man? I’m afraid not. In many ways, there is no end to discrimination yet.