Back to school in Turkey after post-coup teacher purge

There were fears the academic year would begin with 'chaos' because of huge staff shortages following July's attempted coup.

A teacher gives a school child a booklet entitled 'In memory of July 15, the Martyrs and the Victory of Democracy' as she collects her school books during the first day back at school on September 19, 2016 in Istanbul. AFP
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ISTANBUL // Turkish children returned to school on Monday for the first time since July’s attempted coup – but tens of thousands of their teachers have been sacked or suspended for suspected links to the putschists or to Kurdish rebels.

As more than 18 million children began the new term after the summer break, Huseyin Ozev, president of the Istanbul teachers’ union, said there were fears the academic year would begin with “chaos” because of huge staff shortages.

After a rogue military faction tried to oust president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, authorities responded with a massive purge, dismissing and detaining tens of thousands of people within the judiciary, police and education system over alleged links to the plotters.

Students arriving at school on Monday were handed pamphlets from the education ministry commemorating “the triumph of democracy on July 15 and in memory of the martyrs”, an AFP photographer said.

Pupils will be shown two videos about the coup, the ministry said, showing Mr Erdogan reading the national anthem along with a series of images from the dramatic night of July 15, depicting tanks and war planes firing from the air in the capital Ankara.

A “minute of silence for the martyrs will be observed” as well as a prayer in schoolyards for those killed, the ministry said.

Mr Ozev of the Istanbul teachers’ union warned that children’s education could suffer if inexperienced teachers have to step in to fill the staffing shortages.

“It is believed that this school year will take place in general chaos, as there are 40,000-50,000 vacancies and no preparation on the side of the ministry of education,” he said.

Authorities have blamed the coup attempt on Mr Erdogan’s arch-enemy, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, and followers of his moderate Islamic “Hizmet” (Service) movement which encourages its members to work in the public sector.

Mr Gulen strongly denies any involvement in the coup, and the mass crackdown on his alleged supporters has sparked alarm among Turkey’s western allies.

Tens of thousands of staff in the education sector alone have been suspended or dismissed, while another 11,500 teachers suspected of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were suspended earlier this month.

* Agence France-Presse