Another dangerous ideological touch to education

Another dangerous ideological touch to education

“While the Turkish Ministry of Education is still expressing its openness to hear other views, it is not too late for Turks to consider the benefits the remarkably tolerant curriculum that exists today and to lobby for it,” ends an opinion article sent to me by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se).

The article by Dr. Eldad Pardo and Marcus Sheff is an interesting read, as it basically underlines that the Turkish school curriculum has remained relatively immune to ideological changes under the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“In the latest report published in November 2016 by IMPACT-se analyzing Turkey’s school curriculum – in what might be a surprise to many, we found no indicators of a movement towards radical Islam or a departure from democracy. Peace, respect for the ‘Other,’ democratic principles and tolerance comprise the curriculum’s central values,” say Pardo and Sheff.

The AKP’s performance on education policy is one of mixed results, with a downward trend especially after 2010, the year the party elites’ self-confidence hit a peak, making them more confident about shaping education according to their ideology. 

One can confidently argue that the AKP’s initial education policy gained the praise of related NGOs, as almost no children were outside the school system and in particular there was an increased enrollment rate among girls.

But then came the ideological interventions. The 4x4x4 system passed in 2012 - increasing compulsory education to 12 years while dividing it into a three-tier system - was the AKP’s major change, which in the eyes of many was a tactic to give imam-hatip religious schools a higher prominence in the education system. 
This major change, however, did not include a change in the curriculum. Let me quote from Pardo and Sheff’s article:

“In our 2016 report we stressed that teaching evolutionary theories, the arts, and the presence of Turkey’s historical democratic and secular values all suggest that the curriculum under AKP government is not in fact a radical one. We pointed out that as signs of openness, only one new Islamic education textbook displays a girl wearing a hijab - not a popular image for secular Turks to see in schoolbooks - that women learn to pursue a career and overcome gender inequalities, and that students should respect the opinions, beliefs and lifestyles of all people.

 “Turkish school students are currently taught to value Western civilization, study civil rights, and have pride in Turkey’s role of defending Western democracy. They study philosophy, science and figurative arts, including nudity. 

“Although ‘Turkish Islam’ forms the central pillar of Turkish identity, this national version of Islamic civilization had already been introduced as a central pillar of the curriculum 36 years ago, long before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP’s rise to power. Beginning in 1980, successive secular Turkish governments began the process of resuscitating Turkish-Islamic identity, which Erdoğan has admittedly accelerated in recent years. Yet the curriculum honors ancient Turkish shamanism, Alevi and Sufi mysticism with their poet-philosophers, as well as Aristotle and Voltaire, Pascal and Einstein. 

“It is also true that Turkish longing for the nation’s imperial past is present; indeed, Turks have long seen themselves as the guardians of Islam. Militarism is also featured, in the context of defense of the homeland, albeit with respect for former enemies.”

Unfortunately, the Education Ministry’s draft for changes in the curriculum for the coming 2017-18 academic year, announced in mid-January is set to reverse these positive observations and conclusions. This is argued by IMPACT-se’s experts, who say Islamic education will be further enhanced. 

The elimination of the theory of evolution from biology textbooks is one of the most controversial changes proposed by the ministry, which has posted the drafts on its website asking the public to present their views. Along with the complete removal of Darwin’s theory of evolution, Turkish experts also complain that analytical thinking is not given enough attention in the draft curriculum.

According to Education Minister İsmet Yılmaz, most of the feedback received has related to the removal of evolution theory, as well as the reduced space given to the teachings of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

If the government does go ahead with the suggested changes it would further deepen the harm it inflicted in the education system with its ideological intervention in 2012, which contributed to Turkey registering one of the most disastrous scores in the latest PISA tests, which are key measures of a country’s education level.