Turkish students required to select 'compulsory elective’ religion class alongside main one

In addition to the already compulsory religion class, Turkish secondary and high school pupils must also choose a course from the elective subject group called "Religion, Ethics, and Values;” hence, every student has to take four hours of religious classes throughout the semester.

Nuray Pehlivan / Gazete Duvar

Before the start of the new school year in September, Turkey’s Education Ministry decided that in addition to the compulsory religion class in secondary and high schools, students would be required to choose a course from the “religion, morality, and values” group.

Hence, students now have to take two religious courses lasting four hours that are highly focused on Sunni Islamic indoctrination rather than broad theological issues. 

According to the new curriculum, elective courses are divided into three categories, and choosing one course from each category is compulsory. Thus, taking one of the three subfields named the “religion, morality, and values” group has become compulsory.

Representatives from the teachers union Eğitim-sen and parents association Veli-der deemed the new curriculum as a new step for the “religiousization of education.”

A religious education teacher drew attention to the lack of staff in schools and stated, "Nowadays, teacher appointments are irregular and limited, it can be foreseen that Muslim religious officials will teach in these courses in some schools."

Education Ministry has been assigning imams and preachers to schools across the country as part of the special protocol under the project named “I am sensitive to my environment, I claim my values.”

For instance, İzmir Provincial Education Directorate assigned religious officials to one-third of the schools in the province after a protocol was signed with the Religious Affairs Directorate’s office.

Before the Ministry's recent changes, students were able to choose courses from a wide range of options even though there were problems in practice. 

Teachers pointed out that 16 courses including "Museum, Art History, Drama and Music" were removed from secondary education institutions and 15 courses including "Etiquette and Courtesy, Family in Turkish Social Life, and The Meaning of the Holy Quran" were added instead. They stated that the second foreign language course was gradually abolished.  

In the primary education curriculum, classes such as "Folk Culture, Mind Games, Drama" were removed, and 14 new courses such as "Figures Who Shaped Our Culture and Civilization or Etiquette and Courtesy” were added.

Religious courses became compulsory with the constitution adopted in 1982 following the 1980 military coup.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against Turkey and decided that religion classes could not be made compulsory. The decision stated that "the religion course is not objective, pluralistic and critical, does not contain sufficient information on different religions or beliefs and therefore cannot be made compulsory".

Following this judgement, Turkey only added some information on Alevis and other beliefs to the course content.

Constitutional Court in 2022 ruled that "the right of parents guaranteed in the Constitution to ensure that education and training is provided in accordance with their own religious and philosophical beliefs has been violated,” with the imposition of religious classes.

According to the regulation, religion classes is not compulsory only for Christian and Jewish students attending primary and secondary schools.

(English version by Can Bodrumlu)