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Our View: Why did education ministry act so illiberally?

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It was truly shocking to hear that the ministry of education ordered teachers of English at lyceums to tear a page out of a text book before it was given to students because it had a reference to Kemal Ataturk. It is the kind of order we would expect to be given by the ministry of a totalitarian regime which considers the suppression of information and keeping people in the dark part of its remit.

What is the excuse for such illiberal action by the ministry of education in an open society of a country that is a member of the European Union? What was the reasoning of the education minister and the ministry mandarins for setting such an appalling example that encourages ignorance and dogmatism? Did they fear that it would undermine the nationalist sentiment of students and open their minds?

The page that caused offence to the ministry was in an English language workbook for second year lyceum students – Oxford Discover Futures 3 – and featured an exercise centred on a short write-up about Ataturk. It was titled, ‘Turkey’s greatest hero’, which is not something that even the great intellects of the education ministry could dispute. Nor could they dispute that Ataturk “showed leadership from a young age, attending military school and then entering the army as a captain.”

The only positive in this pitiful behaviour was that there was a reaction by the teachers, some of whom posted critical comments on social media while others reported the case to their union. It was encouraging that there were some voices of dissent questioning this absurd decision. Oelmek union boss Costas Hadjisavvas, while admitting the ministry order was worrying, suggested there should have been “better monitoring before ordering the books to avoid the incident.”

If there was an incident it was caused by the education ministry’s knee-jerk reaction and not because of the content of the workbook, which, after all, was produced in Britain. If the ministry was interested in promoting liberal education values it would have advised teachers to use the Ataturk reference to explain how historic figures are viewed differently and that there is not just one interpretation of history, written in stone. Would it really be harmful to their education for students to learn that in Turkey Ataturk is regarded the country’s greatest hero?

It is disheartening that the Republic’s education ministry leadership can exhibit such a level of narrow-mindedness at a time when it has been promising to promote critical thinking in public schools. This incident suggests the education ministry remains much more comfortable imposing controlled thinking.

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