GUVERCIN: Education should be considered basic right, not privilege

Opinions Column: The Bigger Picture

Education is undeniably one of the most fundamental aspects of a developed society. It is recognized as a universal right and encompasses total accessibility for people of all beliefs, backgrounds, genders and races. Education is an achievement and an asset that promotes academic, social and cultural awareness because of its inclusivity. That being said, its state is the greatest harbinger of a corrupted society as it can be easily manipulated to fit harmful agendas. One can make a highly accurate judgment of a nation’s secularity, adherence to law, political and social values and treatment of its citizens simply by analyzing its education system. 

One of the most recent and harrowing examples of this principle can be witnessed in Turkey. According to The New York Times and several other sources, Turkey, which has been recognized as a secular state since the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk administration, has banned the teaching of evolution in schools until college and has made some other alarming modifications to its curriculum, effective in the 2017-2018 academic year. These include manipulating certain religious teachings to promote nationalism and dramatically reducing the traditionally emphasized teachings of Ataturk and his promotion of secularity in all public systems. The fact that Turkey is nationalizing and de-secularizing its educational institutions is indicative of an underlying agenda that targets its youth. Furthermore, Turkey’s education minister has commented that the evolutionary theory “is above the students' level and not directly relevant," as a means of justifying its exclusion from the curriculum. This statement is not as shocking in light of the government’s stated intent of raising “a pious generation,” which demonstrates Turkey’s preexisting motivation to promote religious objectives by any means necessary while ironically holding on to its secular title.

Many critics in Turkey have expressed plausible distaste for the new modifications and perceive them as an effort of the government to “stymie the raising of ‘generations who ask questions.’” This directly coincides with the education minister’s previous statement by showcasing Turkey’s inherent aversion to raising a generation that has the capacity to challenge certain state-sanctioned beliefs rather than being force-fed ideologies with no chance to be exposed to other approaches. 

We can witness the same pattern in a more blatantly dictatorial government, North Korea. The education system in North Korea revolves around communist ideologies and is directed toward instilling a sense of duty and loyalty to one’s country and leaders. This is implemented through highly-biased and sectarian instruction that targets other countries and utilizes propaganda and idolization. From a very young age, North Korean students are taught to have political enemies and are expected to direct all of their personal endeavors and educational pursuits in order to be useful to their government. Foreign Policy News provides an outline of the North Korean elementary, middle and high school curriculums, which surfaces the alarming emphasis they put on politics, anti-global sentiment and recognition of their great leaders. Article 43 of the North Korean Constitution is littered with phrases like “revolutionaries,” “socialist pedagogy” and “who will fight for society.” The fact that this type of language is used in describing an institution that is required to function objectively and with the best academic interest of the student in mind is enough to make an accurate conclusion regarding the perturbing intentions of the North Korean administration.

When one fears education and awareness, one fears progress, advancement and change. Countries like Turkey and North Korea have, on numerous occasions, demonstrated their true intentions by unfortunately targeting their own youth. They are trying to ensure that their corrupt ideologies do not die with their leaders and that their administrations will forever be revered rather than be subject to a necessary, critical assessment. Governments do not have the right to regulate exposure to universally recognized concepts, nor do they have the right to modify them to fit their own agendas. Turkey, North Korea and other countries who implement this malpractice are committing one of the greatest disservices to their youth by hampering their intellectual and cultural progress. The terrifying consequences of these actions will undeniably surface in coming years as these countries will surely fall behind in terms of global competition and internal progress. 

Regardless of disparities with personal beliefs, paramount concepts like evolution and history should not only be fully accessible to students but should be taught objectively without being tainted with religious ideologies, personal sentiments, nationalism and political propaganda. To attack public institutions, primarily those of education, is characteristic of a corrupt dictatorship. Education is not a compromise, it is a basic right.

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year double majoring in philosophy and psychology. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Fridays.


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