Almost 18 million students are about to start new educational year on September 18 with a revised curriculum. There are many debates still going on regarding the content of courses and the disputed curriculum has potential for a new wave of social dissent against government’s policies.
[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″] D[/mks_dropcap]iscussions on the new educational year had started months ago, when Ministry of National Education proposed a new update to the existing curriculum, revising it in depth and adding new chapters in coursebooks which are considered as anti-secular or ideological by many parents. While the Minister of National Education, İsmet Yılmaz defines the new curriculum as ‘the most advanced there has ever been’ many parents tend to disagree with his statement.
When the new curriculum proposal was first announced in January, educational syndicates announced discontent with the proposed changes as it lessened significance of philosophy classes and boosted religious class hours, turning core classes (sciences & match) into electives.
Pilot application of the new curriculum will be available for first, fifth and ninth graders this year, and will be in full effect as of 2018-2019 educational year. However the parents are worried that there are many controversial changes to the already much-debated educational policies in the country.
Evolution or Creation?
One of the most controversial topics of discussion regarding the new curriculum has been whether or not ‘evolution theory’ would still be taught at schools. Previously as vice-Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmuş had commented on the issue and said “theory of evolution is already scientifically outdated and decayed; and there is no rule that this must be taught at schools. Moreover saying ‘those who do not believe in theory of evolution are out of date’ is itself out of date now.”
Minister of National Education, Ismet Yılmaz had also stated during the discussions on teaching of theory of evolution “the theory is well available at university level. There are already thousands of issues regarding this theory”, while Yusuf Tekin, counselor at the ministry also backed the idea saying the children should not be taught evolution but it could be available at university level for those interested.”
‘Education of Values’ or Religious Education
The ministry had announced earlier that the new curriculum would be based on an education of values and set a vision for students in life. While removal of theory of evolution is a striking development, introduction of ‘jihad’ as part of the values education has been alarming for many parents. Even though the Minister announced that the intention is to teach ‘Struggle of Believers’ many people seem to not have been convinced. There have been staged various small protests against “de-secularization of education”, yet the President of the Turkish Educational Board Alpaslan Durmuş reiterated that their intention is to curb “the so-called religious groups that are on the wrong side and to build good examples while cleaning bad ones”.
The course book contents have started circulating in the media, several striking images and statements have drawn reactions. As part of a chapter on ‘marriage’ in ‘Life of Prophet Muhammed’ class, women are advised to be obedient to their husbands, and students are discouraged from marrying non-believers or Alevis. Moreover, instead of women’s rights in a marriage the ‘bride price’ is put forward as part of the chapter.
As part of the revised curriculum, religious teachings have been incorporated into basic courses, ranging from musical education to mathematics. While the new musical curriculum is stated to contain inter-cultural spirit, some music instructors are discontent regarding the changes, due to replacement of Western music with religious hymns. Moreover, violin and piano have been removed from the musical inventories and replaced by authentic and national instruments such as bağlama, spoons, kemençe.
July 15 Coup Attempt
Students at the fifth grade are presented with a six-page chapter on July 15 Coup Attempt. As part of this chapter, students will learn vocabulary of the coup attempt and use them in exemplary sentences; such as ‘coup, treacherous, tyrant, martyrdom’. As part of the homework, students will be asked to write an e-mail to someone living outside of Turkey, explaining the course of July 15 Coup Attempt and the people’s resistance to it.
Education in the Islamic World
As the curriculum discussion continues days before the start of new educational year in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation focusing on education policies. In his speech President Erdoğan said “55% of the population living in the Islamic world do not even know how to read & write. While share of funds allocated to education in OECD countries is 5.2%, this does not even meet 1% in Islamic world. Our most brilliant children, the brightest minds are taken up by Western institutions and countries. The most prominent source of power of our age, knowledge and information is a matter of consumption for us not production, as it is.”
Upon President Erdoğan’s speech, there have been questions on social media platforms whether or not the locally applied educational policies would also aim the same target.