Generations growing up with this curriculum cannot be scientific and secular

Eylem Nazlier discussed the content and debates surrounding the new curriculum with Professor Doctor Rıfat Okçabol, a Boğaziçi University Associate.

Generations growing up with this curriculum cannot be scientific and secular


We interviewed Professor Doctor Rıfat Okçabol, an Associate of the Educational Sciences Department at Boğaziçi University about the new curriculum, which left out the theory of evolution and introduced the concept of jihad, and the debates surrounding it.

The new educational curriculum debated since January has now been presented. What are your views on the curriculum presented?

The new curriculum is generally the same curriculum as the one declared in the first few months of this year. Despite all the objections, not an iota of change took effect. As has been demonstrated once again by the statements made by Minister Yilmaz about the curriculum, reality usually transpires exactly as the opposite of what the Minister says. Educational faculties composed of experts on the issue are not consulted. Those who ignore the warnings of oppositional trade unions have been unapologetically talking about their “pluralistic approach”, and can go as far to assert that “the Curriculum has been renewed in consultation with teachers, students and parents” as though the students and parents have or could have determined the curriculum. 

The new curriculum presented is primarily a curriculum not of education but of instruction and is a strategic document not for the development of individuals in all respects but conditioning them in terms merely of the belief of someone.

For instance, the statements on the new curriculum feature provisions of the sort “To raise individuals who internalise the faith, worship and moral foundations of Islam; who have practical ability with regards to worship and who can strike the world-hereafter balance; who analyse current issues taking Qur’an and Sunnah at its centre; who, recognising the foundational sources of Islam, enlighten the society about religion and who can address needs relating to religious knowledge.” With such content, the new curriculum contravenes both the second clause of the National Educational Main Act, 1973 as well as principles of generality, equality, secularity and scientificity. This curriculum, also clearly and grossly contravenes the 3rd, 10th, 42nd and58th clause of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. Given that it will not be possible for individuals raised with this content to have the outlook of an “actually democratic regime,” a provision present in the first paragraph of the European Treaty, this new content also contravenes the European Treaty undersigned by Turkey. 


What are the aims of the curriculum changes? With what kind of objectives in mind did the AKP government proceed with these changes?

What the “Aim 2023” discourse, used by AKP in its election propaganda amounts to have been laid bare in its 15 years of rule. The aim is to create a society in accordance with the religious education perspective of the AKP leader, pursuant of religion and spite. As known, the AKP, with its false and fabricated statements and together with the supports of its allies, has been provoking the society into spite against the gains and values of the republic and is pursuing to eliminate gradually all those gain and values. However, despite 15 years of an attempt, issuing directives with retrograde laws and proliferation of religion lessons and Qur’an schools, a substantial section of secondary and further education students still does have secular, scientific and contemporary values. Those participating the Gezi events, those reacting against project schools, those turning their backs in graduation ceremonies to school head teachers or university deans siding with the government, those not preferring AKP in elections are usually from amongst these sections. For the individual to be raised with this curriculum, whatever the government does, would have been done “for religion, for faith.” It is not possible for generations growing up with this curriculum to have a secular, scientific, democratic outlook. Not understanding what the Republic means and far from its values of enlightenment, it is not going to be possible for these generations to protect the Republic either. With those raised with this curriculum, a sharia society that accords with the AKP outlook will be established without any need for Constitutional change. 


İsmet Yılmaz, the Minister for Education, in presenting the new curriculum stated the following in relation to jihad debates: “There is no need to be alarmed about this (the teaching of jihad), on the contrary, there should be a demand for it had we not to provide it. Smashing and breaking and warring are not inclusive in jihad yet if the issue is the protection of the motherlands, then it does, the duty of teaching what jihad is and is not is also ours.” What is your view on these statements?

Whatever the minister says, jihad has nothing to do with the protection of the motherland and is a war waged for religion; it is a war waged by people, having mobilised all material and spiritual existence for the cause of Allah, it is a war against the enemies of religion to destroy them. Jihad is an Islamic concept and conception. If with the curriculum developed one of the aims is to “foster individuals able to address needs concerning religious knowledge,” the jihad to be taught to young people will definitely be a doctrine relating to the religious aspect. 

And in stating that “the Ministry of Education’s duty is to truthfully teach each concept on its merits,” as is the case with almost all of his statements, he is deceiving both himself and the public. It is indeed the case that “the Ministry of Education’s duty is to rightly teach each concept on its merits;” yet what is the truth? Religious concepts have nothing to do with reality and truth. Religious concepts are those believed in. The right of which faith is Yılmaz going to teach, that of Alevism’s jihad, … Sunni Gülenist Terror Organisation’s jihad, Sunni Saudi’s jihad or Sunni ISIS’? Yet, scientific knowledge is the knowledge that is true for all. In asserting “the events emerging on 15 July [coup attempt] are also jihad,” he also deceives himself and the public. For, had the 15 July coup attempt associated with ‘Gülenist Terror Organisation’ proved successful, that event was due to be their jihad; it has turned into AKP’s jihad once they became unsuccessful. In amongst these incidents, what is truth and what kind of truth could be talked about? Hence, there is no knowledge here that could be true. What will be taught in this state is the AKP position. 

Minister Yılmaz is once again deceiving himself and the public in stating that “so long as kept away from violence, what is the harm the teaching of jihad could do?” Yet statements by a Parliamentary Educational Commission AKP MP member that “Jihad is the most preliminary element of Islam. It comes even before Salaah [prayer]. … If salaah is the pillar of religion, then jihad is its tent. A tent without a pillar won’t amount to much. There is no use teaching a child mathematics if he/she doesn’t know jihad” lays bare everything to be seen. Acquiring the religiously intensified knowledge in the curriculum and thereby being alienated from values like peace, secularism and human rights, what the child will learn, inevitably and as a matter of course, will be a jihad comprised of imposing one’s faith forcibly onto others like ISIS does. For those in a position of responsibility of seeing this reality, to proceed with this matter, to support it, is the pinnacle of folly. 


A striking aspect of the curriculum presented concerns also the issue of “the fight against terror.” For, in the new curriculum, the incidents of 15 July receive intense attention and under the name of the struggle against DAEŞ (ISIS) and Gülenist Terror Organisation (FETÖ), a “cocktail terror” course is to be provided. Yet, the 15 July display panels introduced in schools in the educational year left behind were criticised for their excessively violent content. Where is our education system going? And as such, is not social polarisation, strained politics and violence not entering also children’s world? How healthy is this?

That the statements are being associated with the fight against terror is yet another of Yılmaz’s deceptions. Let us consider the issue of 15 July. There is no definitive explanation about the incidents; what happened that day still remains unclear. Statements made about that day are those made with the outlook of AKP.  There are many amongst the higher echelons of AKP who gave Fethullah [Gülen] whatever he wanted, who eulogised him, who begged him to return to Turkey, who went on to kiss his hand and feet at the time. Those who met the main culprit of 15 July when under arrest, as well as those who very possibly helped him, escape currently retain their positions. As for the poor innocents who made deposits to Fethullah’s bank account, being branded as proponents of FETÖ, they face either arrest or being sacked from employment. The narrative is that the coup attempt was foiled not by the members of armed forces loyal to the constitutional system but incomprehensible by 150 martyrs. In such a state, the subject to be taught t children is not struggle against terror but AKP’s own comprehension and approach. 


A much-discussed point is the exclusion of theory of evolution from the curriculum. How do you assess this in terms of the children’s education and development? What will fill this void? How could agnosticism, otherworldliness and accounting for all natural events with religious dogmas fill this gap? What kind of generations could grow out of this?

The theory of evolution is a conception striving to explain events and facts not on the basis of belief but on observation, research, scientific knowledge and reason; it is the effort of approaching matters with questions of the sort why with what for and how. It is a consistent position for conception aiming to raise students “who analyse current issues taking Qur’an and Sunnah at its centre,” to stay clear of the theory of evolution. And this is also the most askew aspect of the new curriculum. This is a Middle Ages’ conception. This approach is to carry over the schoolıng of Middle Ages to today’s age. It is inevitable for young people to be raised with this approach to be those fit not for the 21st century but the 7th. 

The new curriculum is that of creating a void of the theory of evolution and of deepening it. The way to address this void is to annul the new curriculum, to renounce the conceptions giving rise to this curriculum. 
Since beliefs of modernity and development did not emerge taking what the books or man of religion say; there is one way to catch the age and become a strong country: to prioritise scientific knowledge which makes possible for people to understand and reflect on reality, to approach matters critically, to be curious about them, to research them and to be creative. 
The new curriculum is nothing but one aiming to keep our future behind the current age.

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