Erdogan dismisses secular criticism on Turkey's new curriculum

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday dismissed criticism of Turkey’s new education curriculum and vowed to prioritise “national values” in the face of worries that the changes will erode schools’ scientific and secularist foundations.

Late last month Ankara approved the curriculum, dubbed the “Turkey Century Education Model”, which will roll out gradually from the next academic year.

The main opposition party, education unions and non-governmental organisations have all voiced concerns over its democratic credentials and criticized steps to emphasize religious studies at the expense of others.

“Our aim is to raise young people equipped with national values,” said Erdogan, whose Islamic-rooted AK Party has ruled Turkey for more than two decades.

“Those who oppose our education move over ideological concerns should question themselves,” he said at an event unveiling the curriculum.

Under Erdogan’s watch, Turkey has opened many Islamic “Imam Hatip” schools in line with his goal of creating a “pious generation”. Steps last year promoting traditional moral values in students, increasing Islamic lessons and opening prayer rooms in schools fuelled secularist concerns in the Muslim country.

“We will not allow anyone to come between the children of this country and religious values. The period in which children faced discrimination just because they prayed and wore a headscarf is behind us,” Erdogan said, referring to his reversal of a ban on headscarves in schools and public institutions in the 2000s.

After the draft curriculum was presented for public consultation in late April, more than 67,200 comments and suggestions were submitted on it over two weeks.

The non-governmental Education Reform Initiative said the new curriculum “takes ‘raising competent and virtuous people’ as its main goal, with a discourse dominated by spirituality.”

Egitim-Sen, a big education sector union, said the new curriculum “targets secular education and secular life”, “declares war on science and scientific facts” and ignores gender equality.

Education Minister Yusuf Tekin said the government had carried out the process with sufficient democratic participation.

But the latest move has revived concerns that Islam is encroaching on schools generally.

While the curriculum frequently emphasises religious and national elements, “no space is given to national values like Ataturk, secularism and the republic,” said the Istanbul Bar Association’s children’s rights centre, referring to modern secular Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Kadem Ozbay, head of the Egitim Is labour union said the new curriculum was prepared with the aim of raising “robot and soulless generations that do not think, question, criticize, object or interpret”.

“It is clear that they want to create a religious and national curriculum,” he said, adding that his union was preparing to open a legal case against the curriculum.

(Reporting by Daren Butler, Birsen Altayli and Nevzat Devranoglu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

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