Erdoğan’s ‘pious generation’ plan dividing Turkey's parents - NY Times

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s push to expand religious education as he seeks re-election on Sunday, which bolden his imprint on the country after 15 years at the helm, is thrilling his supporters while alarm his critics, says Carlotta Gall in an article she penned for the New York Times.

Turkey heads to the polls on Sunday for parliamentary and presidential elections which is set to usher in a new executive presidential system that will grant the elected president vastly increased powers.

The Turkish president has already chipped away at Turkey’s democratic institutions, purging the courts and civil service of suspected opponents, bringing the media to heel, and leaving in place a state of emergency after a failed coup in 2016 that has added a new level of precariousness to his presidential campaign, Gall says.

Education has become a central issue for Turkey ahead of the polls as parents around the country protest changes made by Erdoğan, who was also educated at an Imam Hatip school, and are scrambling to find schools of their choice as standards continue to slide. The Turkish president has expanded religious schools - known as Imam Hatip schools -  from 450 just 15 years ago when he came into power, to 4,500 today, increasing the budget for religious education this year by 68 percent, to $1.5 billion.

‘’Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to recast Turkey in his own image, one rivaling the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the republic and its first president,’’ the article says.

“Do you expect that a party with a conservative, democratic identity would raise an atheist youth?” it quotes Erdoğan as saying, as he challenges his opponents about the aims of his leading Justice and Development Party (AKP). “You may have such an aim, but we don’t.”

Parents in middle class of Istanbul and other cities are complaining that Erdogan has aggressively pushed religious instruction in ways divisive, deceptive and damaging to educational standards, Gall points out.

Turkey’s Education Ministry has acknowledged that 69 percent of places in Imam Hatip schools remained unfilled as late as 2016. But the schools keep sprouting up.

“They said don’t wear leggings as it will arouse men’s attention,” the article quotes Oya Ustundag, an accountant who has a son in the eighth grade, as saying regarding her son’s female classmates.  “They said only hands, eyes and feet should be shown.”

“Walk around this neighborhood now and you cannot find a single neighborhood public school,” another parent complains.

The article points out that Turkey’s recent fall in international rankings — it dropped in the PISA index, which evaluates critical thinking, from 44th to 49th out of 72 countries — can be linked to constant disruptions and the focus on religion.