At the FEM University Preparation School in Uskudar, a conservative district on the Asian side of Istanbul, young men are quietly receiving specialized coaching in how to pass the exams that give access to the most important jobs in Turkey.
To a casual eye, nothing seems remarkable. As in nearly all Turkish schools, a portrait of modern Turkey’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk hangs in every classroom. Ataturk’s address to youth hangs on the wall at the school’s entrance.
There are no visible references either to the religious movement which runs the school, known as Hizmet, or “Service” – or to the movement’s founder, cleric Fethullah Gülen, based in the United States for 14 years. But the teachers are almost all Gülen followers, as are many of the pupils and their parents.
The government wants to shut schools like this one down, officially arguing that test preparation academies provide an unfair advantage and place a financial burden on families who feel they must pay tuition or their children will under-perform.