Turkish students attend a lesson at their school
Turkish President Abdullah Gul has signed into law a controversial education bill which extends access to religious schools and has infuriated secularists, local television reported Wednesday
The bill was approved by parliament last month after fierce debates between lawmakers from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and opposition deputies.
The reform extends compulsory education from eight years to 12 but also scraps a ban on so-called Imam Hatip religious schools signing up pupils under the age of 15.
The schools, originally set up to train Muslim clerics, have been increasingly sought by conservative families who want to keep their children away from secular state schools.
The ruling party argues that the new law is better suited to the needs of both the job market and families as it allows children to opt for specialised studies from the age of 10.
Since it came to power in 2002, Erdogan’s party had made several attempts to reform the educational system but had always been thwarted by the powerful military, which sees itself as the custodian of Turkey’s secular character.
The secular opposition People’s Republican Party has accused Erdogan of seeking to Islamise Turkish youth.