Turkey to Introduce Kurdish Lessons in Public Schools

Article Summary
For the first time in Turkish history, Kurdish language instruction will be offered in schools as part of an education reform package, writes Deniz Zeyrek. While many see this as a positive step, some critics claim that the language course's “elective” status is still not enough.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set out measures that would introduce the Kurdish language into Turkish public schools. The Ministry of Education has announced the draft curriculums that will be put in place as part of a new education reform program known as the “4+4+4 system.”

Kurdish elective courses are also set to be introduced into the new curriculum. They will be offered for two hours per week starting from low-grade levels. The option for other languages and dialects are also set to be included in the curriculum. In addition, 20 new elective courses, including Qur’an, the life of the Prophet Mohammed and basic religious knowledge will be offered.

This comes on the heels of a speech made by Erdogan in front of the Turkish parliament announcing these developments. Minister of Education Omer Dincer and a senior bureaucrat from the Ministry of Education also gave details of the new system.

Currently, it is mandatory that Turkish students be enrolled for a total of 720 course-hours, from grades one through eight. Minister Dinçer explained that the current Turkish curriculum has students enrolled in 674 course-hours less than their peers in other countries. A report was conducted revealing that, in the systems of other countries, the course load increases gradually, says Dincer. The introduction of additional elective courses aims to compensate for this gap.

Kurdish as “The Living Language”

With the new curriculum, it will be possible to take Kurdish — or other dialects — courses for two hours per week as long as there is a high enough demand for the course. As it stands, the most important problem with the new system is the lack of teachers capable of offering these courses. Dincer has noted that they are deliberating on this issue with universities in the Kurdish region. If Turkish language and literature teachers of Kurdish descent decide to pursue a Master’s degree in Kurdish, they will be assigned to these courses, said Dincer.

Another important addition to the new system is the introduction of elective courses in the areas of religion, ethics and morality. As part of the new program, courses on Islam, Christianity, Judaism — as well as on the Alevi faith — will be offered upon request from students. Dincer said that Alevi religious leaders can take part in the preparation of the courses on Alevi faith. He also added that Sunni teachers should not be the ones teaching these courses.

Erdogan: Kurdish Courses is a Historic Step

It was the Turkish prime minister himself who announced that Kurdish would be taught in public schools. Referring to previous amendments to the education law, Erdogan said that the government had enabled the teaching of Quranic studies as an elective course.

“As part of the new curriculum, we will introduce ‘basic religions knowledge’ as an elective course for students. With these lessons, our non-Muslim citizens,Christians and Jewish students, for example, can learn their own language,” said Erdogan.

The prime minister called the teaching of the Kurdish language in schools “a historic step” for Turkey.

"Our pupils will now be able to take Kurdish as an optional courses if a sufficient number of students [decide that they want to take the course].This is a historic step for Turkey. I kindly ask our Kurdish citizens to follow what will be said about the major reforms being implemented by our government. There are some who want to undermine these steps — sympathizers of the terrorist organization [PKK] have already started to belittle these initiatives."

How did the Kurds React?

Muhsin Kizilkaya, writer: “I think that this is a very important step. However, it is unsatisfactory to see these rights granted in bits and pieces. I wish this had happened earlier. A couple of years ago, had someone said that Kurdish would become an elective course in Turkey, nobody would have believed in that. The liberalization of the Kurdish language will please the Kurds very much; they will perceive these steps as granting dignity to their language. And, I know there are many more steps to come.”

Kazim Oz, director: Any limitations on the use of a mother-tongue are anti-democratic. This becomes even worse if this language is spoken by millions of people. Language is the first step to solving the Kurdish issue. I wish we could have had these discussions decades ago — so much blood would not have been split.

Ozgur Dogan, director: I see this step as a distraction. The Kurds have not asked for an elective course, they ask for education in their language. A Kurdish elective course could be offered to Turks. Because the Kurds want education in their own language, this step is a distraction.

Recap: Changes to Come With Reforms


- Kurdish courses will offered for two hours per week. These courses will fall under the category of living languages and dialects
- Foreign language education will begin with the second year of primary school.
- A greater number of science and math courses will be taught
- Depending on demand, courses on the Alevi faith will be introduced
- Praying will not be a part of the mandatory religion classes
- A Human Rights and Democracy course will become a mandatory course for all fourth -graders

Found in: turkish education system, turkey, pluralism, language, kurds in turkey, kurds, erdogan, discrimination

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