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Secular Education under Threat in Turkey

June 25, 2017

Turkish Ministry of Education has decided to strip Darwin’s evolution theory of high school textbooks, deeming it scientifically controversial and dubious. The president of Turkey’s Education and Morality Council, Alparslan Durmus, who is responsible for determining the national school curriculum, announced the elimination from biology textbooks of the entire chapter on evolution, entitled ‘Beginning of Life and Evolution.’ Durmus declared, during a meeting with teachers in Ankara, on June 20, that the Education Ministry had presented the proposal to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who immediately approved it. Durmus, who studied Islamic theology at the Marmara University in Istanbul, accentuated that new changes entail a profound philosophical transformation that promotes a new approach to education. He specified, ‘For example, we tried to switch from the Eurocentric perspective for the subject of History. In order to underline that scientific knowledge has advanced through the contribution of everyone, we emphasised the contributions of Islamic and Turkish scientists.’

In his public statement on the new curriculum, Durmus defended the removal of the chapter on evolution from the textbooks. He claimed that the chapter was ‘controversial’ and that the students at the level of secondary education were not equipped with the necessary background to comprehend such dubious issues as evolution. Starting from 2019, evolution will not be taught in Turkey. He also praised the new curriculum, as it features the ‘national values’ more than before.

In the draft version of the curriculum, some new subjects are also introduced for re-orienting the national education towards national and Islamic values. For example, jihadism will be taught in the introductory courses to religion in religious high schools. In the seventh grade, jihadism will be discussed together with patriotism and basic rights. In the eighth grade, jihadism will be taught as a way of worshipping God, within the course unit titled ‘Serving God and Worshipping.’

The religious transformation of Turkish education system is not limited to the new curriculum that deems evolution controversial but teaches jihad as a way to worship God, it is a result of ambitious politics put in place by President Erdogan’s ruling AKP. Since AKP came to power in 2002, the number of students attending religious high schools increased rapidly by ninety percent. In Turkey, approximately a million students, aged between 10 and 18, attend religious schools. In 2014, with the forceful conversion of regular high schools into religious ones, forty-thousand students had to continue their education in religious vocation schools. In some districts, religious vocation schools are the only alternative to private schools, and the parents who cannot afford to send their kids to private schools do not have another choice than the religious schools that target to raise future imams.

Secular education is also compromised in Turkey by various new decrees. For example, a recent regulation, announced in the Turkish Official Newspaper on June 24, has stirred considerable controversy in Turkey. According to the regulation for opening new institutions, new schools must have Islamic prayer rooms, divided into male and female sections. Mehmet Balik, head of the teacher’s union in Turkey, announced that the new regulation violates the Turkish Constitution, ‘…according to the article 10 of the Turkish Constitution, which guarantees equality, this regulation is deeply wrong. According to this article, the same religious, linguistic, ethnic, and political possibilities should be provided for everyone. In our schools, there are also students with different religious views. With the little mosques inside schools and gender-based division, next step will probably be to assign imams to schools. In secular countries, there is no religion-based education. Since our country is secular, this practice is also against the principle of secularity. The religionisation of education and Islamisation of schools are made possible by this decree.’ He also declared that he will soon be filing a suit against the new regulation.

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