Secularism – the division between state and religious institutions –, a historic value of the Turkish political system, is being undermined by changes to the country’s school curriculum, which propose to oust the scientific theory of evolution in favour of an Islamic worldview.
Turkey’s authorities plan to undertake a fundamental change to its school curriculum in a clear move away from secularism. The government has announced that evolution theory will be removed from the lesson plans “ because it is above the students’ level and not directly relevant”, as explained by Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz. Simultaneously, concepts from the Islamic worldview such as jihad (Yilmaz specified that this was a concept that could be understood as the love towards one’s nation) will be taught to primary and secondary school pupils.
Education unions have strongly criticised the announcement. Egitim-Sen, Education International’s affiliate, has published an analysis of the changes in the curriculum program. It starts by underlining that stakeholders’ inputs have not been taken to account by the education authorities. They also warn of the removal of the scientific nature of education towards bias and religion, which ignores the “social and cultural structure of [Turkish] society”, characterised by a “multi-identity and multicultural structure”.
Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary, said that teachers “must make it perfectly clear that we have the right to use our professional discretion to interrogate and to reject curricular directives that defy facts, falsify history, or lead to xenophobia and hate. There is a professional and ethical responsibility that may outweigh the authority of education employers, or even of governments which have abdicated democracy and human rights. This is, I believe, what society expects of us and what we expect of each other.”