DAYS before the start of the new school year, Merve, an eighth-grade science teacher, is flipping through the pages of her old biology textbook. A picture of a giraffe appears, alongside a few lines about Charles Darwin. Teaching evolution in a predominantly Muslim country where six out of ten people refer to themselves as creationists, according to a 2010 study, has never been easy. As of today it is no longer possible. A new curriculum has scrapped all references to Darwin and evolution. Such subjects, the head of Turkey’s board of education said earlier this summer, were “beyond the comprehension” of young students. Merve says her hands are now tied. “There’s no way we can talk about evolution.”
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made clear on more than one occasion that he would like to bring up a “pious generation” of young Turks. He has made plenty of headway. The education ministry, says Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of a leftist teachers’ union, is working more closely than ever with Islamic NGOs and with the directorate of religious affairs. Attendance at so-called imam hatip schools, used to train Muslim preachers, has shot up from about 60,000 in 2002 to over 1.1m, or about a tenth of all public-school students. The government recently reduced the minimum population requirement for areas where such schools are allowed to open from 50,000 to 5,000. An earlier reform lowered the age at which children can enter them from 14 to ten.