Turkish High Schools Will No Longer Teach Evolution

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Starting in 2019, Turkish high school students will no longer be taught about evolution in biology classes. The change is part of a wider education overhaul that affects more than 170 subjects.

Replacing the old subject are new "value-based" curricula. In regards to biology, Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz said the new classes would teach evolutionary mechanisms but not evolution itself, which he says is "too advanced" for high schoolers.

Alpaslan Durmus, head of the Education Ministry's curriculum board, explained the decision to educators at a seminar on June 20.

"We have excluded controversial subjects for students at an age unable yet to understand the issues’ scientific background," said Durmus, reports Hurriyet Daily News. "As the students at ninth grade are not endowed with antecedents to discuss the ‘Origin of Life and Evolution’ section in biology classes, this section will be delayed until undergraduate study."

Turkish students were previously taught evolution in 12th-grade biology, according to The Associated Press. The unit, called "The Origin of Life and Evolution," will be replaced by a new unit called "Living Beings and the Environment."

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Students will still learn evolutionary mechanisms, such as adaptation, mutation, and natural and artificial selection. Hurriyet Daily News reports that the change to the biology curriculum, along with several others, was approved by Turkish President Racep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey's education system has been undergoing some significant changes since a failed coup on July 15, 2016.

More than 33,000 teachers have been fired in response to the coup -- roughly 4 percent of the nation's teachers, reports AP. In addition, nearly 5,600 academics were let go and approximately 880 schools were shut down over suspicion of ties to terror groups.

The country's modern history classes teach students that the failed coup was "a legendary, heroic story" on the part of the government that won.

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Educators have expressed concern that the changed curricula -- which critics have marked as pandering to a conservative, Islamic agenda -- will propel students even further down the global rankings for education.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks Turkish students "below average" in science, mathematics and reading compared to students from other parts of the world."We won’t be able to produce good doctors, good scientists, when students graduate from high school with this level of ignorance," said Mehmet Somel, who heads the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Society of Turkey.

Cagri Mert Bakirci, who founded an online learning project called the "Tree of Evolution," said the Education Ministry’s claim that high schoolers cannot understand evolution is an insult to both student and teachers.

"I can explain evolution in 10 seconds," Bakirci said.

The New Arab reports that issues of secularity and religion have been prevalent in Turkey ever since Erdogan became president in 2014.  

Erdogan has repeatedly spoken of creating a "devout generation," reports AP. Past changes to the education system have included more religious classes and more Islamic electives in public schools.

Sources: AP via The Denver Post, The New Arab, Hurriyet Daily News / Featured Image: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: JonRidinger/Wikimedia CommonsKLMircea/Flickr

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