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Education minister under fire for remarks on establishment of girls-only schools

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Turkish Education Minister Yusuf Tekin has stated that they should build schools exclusively for female students, if necessary, drawing criticism from opposition politicians, education unions and social media users.

Speaking during a program on the state-run A Haber TV station on Tuesday, the minister said they aim to increase the overall enrollment rate among female students and that within this framework, could open girls-only schools – similar to Turkey’s gender-segregated imam-hatip religious schools – to persuade conservative families who he claims don’t send their daughters to school due to mixed-gender education to do so.

Tekin’s comments came in response to a question about a statement he made regarding the non-compulsory nature of coeducation in 2014, when he was undersecretary of the Education Ministry.

Lale Karabıyık, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairwoman responsible for education policy, on Tuesday said in a series of tweets that Tekin’s statement regarding girls-only schools was “unacceptable” from two perspectives.

Karabıyık said the statement shows that the education minister admits that some girls are not sent to school under compulsory eduction, although the ministry, by law, must ensure that all boys and girls attend school.

She further said that the 0-18 age group is accepted as children in the country and that those who don’t send their children to school based on gender discrimination don’t see children as children.

“It is unacceptable under any circumstances for the minister of education to utter words that mean opening the door to such a view,” Karabıyık said.

Ünal Özmen, a former employee of the Education Ministry’s Board of Education and Discipline, on Wednesday told Deutsche Welle Turkish service that Tekin’s statement didn’t reflect the truth since the enrollment rate for girls in Turkey is around 98 percent.

Özmen said that if a family doesn’t send their children to school, it is necessary to initiate a legal process instead of legitimizing their “problematic” mentality by opening the whole education system to discussion.

Teachers union Eğitim-İş also condemned Tekin’s remarks in a written statement released on Tuesday, saying they were part of a “policy of retrogression” in education and could “push the country back a hundred years.”

While academic Can Gürses tweeted that the minister sees “blatant ignorance” as an alternative point of view, journalist Gökçer Tahincioğlu argued Tekin’s words weren’t uttered to “respect sensitivities,” but were a “manifestation of the love for regime change.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is often accused of interfering in the education system with the aim of instilling conservative-Islamic values more strongly in Turkey’s younger generation, argues that gender segregation in educational institutions will improve female students’ performance.

He is an ardent supporter of Turkey’s gender-segregated imam-hatip religious schools and a graduate himself.

Erdoğan has also drawn ire for violating Turkey’s secular principles and limiting the civil liberties of women in his two decades in power. He has called for every woman in the country to have three children and has proposed limits on abortion, the morning-after pill and cesarean sections.

The president has also gone on record as saying that men and women cannot be treated equally as this “defies the laws of nature.”

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