The new curriculum for primary and secondary schools in Turkey has brought a number of unwelcome changes, including the termination of all lessons about evolution.

There are some unfortunate similarities between Turkey and the US in this aspect. Image credits: Quinn Anne / Wiki Commons.

İsmet Yılmaz, the Minister of National Education in Turkey, is set to introduce a series of radical changes to the country’s education system. Religion courses had already been increased from 2 to 6 hours a week and Intelligent Design was taught alongside evolution. Now, it will be the only perspective taught to everyone until university. Of course, even at university level, only biology-related classes will discuss the topic — and this ensures that only a small minority of the country’s youth will learn about evolution.

Meanwhile, information on historic topics, such as the country’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (who pushed for secularism in the country) is reduced.

While Yilmaz said the draft is still open to feedback, he also cast his doubts about the scientific validity of evolution.

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“Whether it is scientific, merely a hypothesis, or just theoretical, all these are debatable.”

Alpaslan Durmuş, who chairs the board of education, also said that evolution was debatable, and also that it is too difficult for students to understand.

“We believe that these subjects are beyond their [students] comprehension,” said Durmuş in a video published on the education ministry’s website.

What this set of measures is doing is ensuring that Turkey becomes more and more religious, something which Ataturk tried to avoid. Ironically, there are some strong similarities with the US — a country where religion is starting to play a more and more important role in governance, despite the intentions of the Founding Fathers. “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” John Adams, the country’s second president, is famously quoted as saying.

The move came following the pressure of conservative groups and fell on fertile grounds in the government. Mustafa Akyol, a senior fellow at the Freedom Project at Wellesley College quotes Egitim Bir-Sen, one such group, as an important source of influence.

“Since the early 2000s, religious conservatives have had the upper hand in Turkey, and their distaste for the theory of evolution is well established,” Mr Akyol wrote. “Many of them see the theory as corrosive to religious faith and want to ‘protect’ young generations from such ‘harmful’ ideas.”

Middle-eastern countries have struggled to accept evolution and implement it in a largely religious society. Education is regarded as a particularly contentious avenue, as it would teach children to think more for themselves and challenge religious beliefs. We wouldn’t want the kids thinking for themselves, who knows what they’ll do next, right?

In Turkey, reactions to this have been mixed, highlighting a clear divide between the two sides of the country. The more educated Turks (often from the higher echelons of society) have spoken against it, with small-scale protests erupting around Turkey’s large cities. But for the religious, largely rural population of Turkey, this is a victory of piety.

The science, however, is pretty clear. Evolution is at the core of biological research, and while some of the nuts and bolts of the theory are still being analyzed and improved upon, evolutionary processes are unanimously accepted by biologists. It’s unfortunate to see religious beliefs interfering with scientific realities.

The final changes will be officially announced at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Among other changes, the overall academic difficulty will be significantly decreased — a measure frowned upon in education often used just to inflate numbers — and the failed coup attempt will be included in Social Studies courses starting from the 6th grade.