Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002, Turkey has had six education ministers, each of whom made major changes to the education system, some argue to turn students into guinea pigs. The most significant change, bulldozed through parliament amid fistfights and protests in March 2012, expanded the imam-hatip religious schools and introduced Quranic studies and the life of the Prophet Muhammad as elective courses in public schools, among other changes. The opposition has long decried the Islamization of education, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted on raising a “devout generation,” lauding imam-hatip schools, which train Muslim clergy and offer extensive Quranic studies.
In early June, a wave of protests spread through leading high schools around the country, with students demanding “modern” education. The spark was ignited at the graduation ceremony of the prestigious Istanbul Erkek Lisesi when the students turned their backs in protest to their principal as he delivered a speech. The protest continued the following day at the school’s traditional party, which the principal chose not to attend. The students unfurled a large banner demanding “a modern and not partisan administration,” setting the tone for more protests to come.