Nothing new about the “new curriculum”

Ministry of Education is renewing the curriculum, but there are severe criticisms.

Ministry of Education is working for renewing the content of the courses that are taught in elementary and secondary schools. This is the most extensive change so far and will affect over 800.000 teachers and 18 million students. The work is focused on the contents of 53 courses. The drafts are published on ministry's website. Minister of Education İsmet Yılmaz said that anyone can submit suggestions to the ministry until February 10. New curriculum is planned to be taught starting from 2017-2018 education year. 

After the drafts are published, criticisms started. Experts criticize many changes, including exclusion of Theory of Evolution from the curriculum. And Alevi people are objecting the religion course. 

Minority schools will also be affected by the changes. Minority schools are using the curriculum prepared by the ministry, except from Armenian and religions courses.

There are no changes that consider multicultural structure of Turkey and students whose mother language is not Turkish. We talked to Nurcan Kaya, Turkey coordinator of Minority Rights Group International, about the changes in curriculum. 

A religious and nationalist generation

Mother language and cultural codes of children in minority schools are different. Don't we need a different perspective in multicultural societies?

Turkey still has a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-faith social structure, despite the policies that have been adopted for decades and subjecting the communities with different identities to assimilation. As NGOs working in the fields of human rights, right to education and so on, we have been stating that the language, ideology, content and textbooks of the education system haven't been designed in a way to include this structure with multiple identities. There have been positive developments like elective language courses and elimination of some discriminatory/marginalizing expressions from the textbooks, but they weren't enough. Reform in education system can be useful, only if it is done in consideration with the differences in the society and with a participatory process. 

How is the current process?

It seems that they give time to offer suggestions until February 10, but we don't know whether there is a system guaranteeing that the suggestions will be considered. Unfortunately, education has always been regarded as a tool for shaping the society in accordance with dominant ideology in political arena. Today, education system is being renewed with the purpose of raising a religious and nationalist generation. They aim to raise a generation that thinks, believes and lives within certain limits, instead of developing the best interest and critical thinking of children and encouraging social peace. 

Isn't it necessary to develop the contents and materials of the courses in accordance with these differences?

NGOs founded by communities with different identities like us have been recommending reforms in education for years. We demanded a renewal involving this social structure with multiple identities, a multilingual education system and curriculum and books involving, introducing and affirming these differences. We demanded that religion course is removed and a course on history of religions is added to the curriculum. We conducted researches, issued reports, held conferences and published books. We discussed what other countries did. We provided concrete suggestions. However, we haven't received any response yet.

Isn't it necessary to say to the larger society that “Armenians and Greeks also live here. There are people speaking Armenian, Greek and Syriac”?

Of course it is necessary; it is a vital need, as far as I am concerned. Curriculum and textbooks that involve, introduce and affirm communities with different identities would have an important role in eliminating or diminishing polarization and racist or marginalizing attitude in the society. For the moment, the education system does the opposite. The education system based on the superiority of a certain identity is now being shaped in accordance with the superiority of a certain political stance. Even atmosphere in the classrooms is affected by it. This system enables a teacher to pose with students holding halters. 

What are the examples from other countries?

I can inform you about the responsibility of the states rather than practices. Turkey is not the only country that should do something about this. All states have structures with multiple identities and that is why there are international conventions that determine the standards concerning multiculturalism. For example, there are Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is the basis of the standards of human rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Turkey is a party, Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to which Turkey is not yet a party, the Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities which is a document accepted by OSCE. These texts prescribe an education system that aims to strengthen the respect for human rights and basic freedoms. In this regard, they state that curriculum should be used for developing understanding and tolerance between different ethnic, lingual and religious groups and that states should take measures for encouraging minorities to learn about their history, language, traditions and culture. Furthermore, compulsory curriculum should be designed in a way to cover history, culture and traditions of national minorities and the part of the curriculum about the minorities should be developed with the active participation of the institutions that represent the minorities in question. They also state that stereotypes and prejudices in history textbooks should be removed and critical historical thinking should be encouraged. All of our recommendations are based on these standards with which Turkey is obliged to comply.


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Uygar Gültekin