Fethullah Güner, the director of private education faculties at Turkey’s Education Ministry, on Jan. 31 warned private schools not to allow “events related to the pagan culture,” referring to New Year's celebrations, during his talk at the 22nd education symposium in the Mediterranean Antalya province.
The director held that the ministry did not want schools to have events around “certain holidays and celebrations that had roots in the pagan culture.” He also disavowed subjecting children to “cultural imperialism.”
Güner said that education should be catered to protect the national identities of the students, according to reporting by the daily Cumhuriyet.
“We should not fall into the error of trying to carry our children beyond the lines of our civilization,” cautioned Güner, and likened the Education Ministry’s efforts to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the republic, in 1924 closing down 44 foreign schools operating in Turkey.
“The schools were in direct contrast with the Turkish identity and traditions and recruited children out of the system through foreign connections,” Güner drew a parallel between the foreign schools of the early Republican period and the private schools allowing Christmas decorations today.
Another warning pertained to the religious culture courses. “We must interfere when we see a school replacing a religion culture course with mathematics or English,” the director also cautioned.
“Perhaps not all our children will become scientists. However, we are responsible to make all of them into valuable individuals in line with this society’s values,” he suggested.
Noting that the Ministry’s many articles on the matter have not been enough, Güner issued a “strict warning” in his speech.
According to the director, certain English lesson materials could culturally corrupt students, as they contained “their cultural codes,” and schools had the responsibility to prevent this.
The Education Ministry on Nov. 27 sent a statement to provincial education directorates with Güner’s signature. The statement requested private schools to organize New Year’s events in line with Turkey’s customs and traditions, wherein schools taught national culture to students in these events.
The Education Ministry has been criticized for the increasing effect of religion in Turkey’s schools. For example, a 2023 cooperation protocol struck with the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) further extends the state body's influence over students.
Minister Yusuf Tekin declared on Dec. 17 that the ministry would uphold its protocols with Islamic cults and organizations in 2024. “We have at most ten protocols with NGOs you like to call religious cults and organizations, and we will continue these protocols,” Tekin justified the move.