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Education system in Turkey criticised for marginalising ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities

27 October 2015

The Turkish government is urged to make a fundamental shift in its approach to education by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in a new report. A long-standing focus on state-building has been supplemented by increasing emphasis on religious teaching. Both feature strongly in the education system in Turkey making schools a focus of discrimination.

The report, Discrimination based on Colour, Ethnic Origin, Language, Religion and Belief in Turkey’s Education System, reveals evidence of discrimination of minority groups and suggests comprehensive reforms to effectively ensure equality.

“The ‘national’ education system, which for decades aimed to create young Turkish nationalists, has in recent years become a vehicle for raising young religious Turkish nationalists,” says Nurcan Kaya, Turkey Coordinator of Minority Rights Group International.

Religious education is compulsory from grade four in primary schools. While some information on world religions has been introduced, the emphasis remains on teaching Sunni Muslim religious practices. Children of Jewish and Christian families may apply to opt out, but the process can be cumbersome and in many schools alternatives are not provided for them. Non-Muslim students who have opted out can still find themselves having to remain in the religious instruction class or alternatively having to wander in the school corridor – making them vulnerable to taunts from pupils and even teachers. The opt out possibility is still not available to children of other minorities.

Another issue is mother tongue education. In 2012, a new elective on the living languages and dialects in Turkey was introduced but due to various limitations, minorities remain marginalised “others” in the education system.

Subsequent to the 2012 reform, the report monitors discrimination in the formal education system in the period of the academic year of 2014-2015. The findings are based on the field work of the Monitoring Discrimination in Education Network, an alliance of 16 organizations working in Turkey.

The report compiles numerous cases of discrimination based on language, religion, ethnicity, skin colour and the level of income.

“In order to bring about a fundamental solution to these problems in the education system, the government must prioritise developing an approach that sees all groups as equal and that responds to demands for rights based on such an understanding of equality,” says Kaya.

The report highlights that Turkey has no anti-discrimination law or an equality commission to which victims of discrimination can apply. The existing legislation contains no effective and accessible means of judicial remedies or compensation. Therefore, many discriminatory practices are not reported to school administrations.

“The entire education system is based on Turkishness. Non-Turkish groups are either not referred to or referred in a negative way,” says Kaya. “Education system has played a significant role in deepening conflict in society. The positive representation of other groups in the education system would contribute to social peace and harmony.”

In order to resolve the many problems in the education system that the current approach causes, the overall aim of government education policy should be cleared of ideological references, and the protection of children’s best interests and the right to education in line with international standards should be considered its fundamental goal, says the report.

Notes to editors

Interview opportunities 

  • Nurcan Kaya, Turkey Coordinator of Minority Rights Group International (Turkey)

Email: [email protected] , mobile number upon request

  • The report, Discrimination based on Colour, Ethnic Origin, Language, Religion and Belief in Turkey’s Education System, can be downloaded from MRG’s website on 27 October 2015.
  • The report was prepared as part of the project called Mobilising Civil Society for Monitoring Equality in the Formal Education System in Turkey, implemented in cooperation with the History Foundation of Turkey with the financial support of the Delegation of the EU to Turkey.
  • For more information and to arrange interviews please contact MRG Europe Media Officer:

Bernadett Sebály

M: +36 70 217 2601

E: [email protected]

Twitter: @MinorityRights