Alpaslan Durmus, who heads the curriculum board at the Turkish Ministry of Education, spoke about the new curriculum on Thursday. He called evolution a "controversial subject" that would be excluded "for students at an age unable yet to understand the issue's scientific background," according to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News.
"We are aware that if our students don't have the background to comprehend the premises and hypotheses, or if they don't have the knowledge and scientific framework, they will not be able to understand some controversial issues, so we have left out some of them," Durmus said. The evolution unit that students took during ninth grade biology "would be delayed until undergraduate study."
Government critics and educators have slammed the decision, as well as the government's official explanation. In a phone interview with CNN, Ebru Yigit, a board member of secular education union Egitim-Sen, said, "The curriculum change in its entirety is taking the education system away from scientific reasoning and changing it into a dogmatic religious system.
"The elimination of the evolution unit from classes is the most concrete example of this."
Other aspects of the curriculum include a downplaying of secular topics as well as studies of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the progressive secularist father of modern Turkey. Atatürk remains iconic and popular among the Turkish people, but Erdogan and other Islamists begrudge him for his strict secularism, which some have referred to as anti-Islamic.
In place of these programs will be a class on the 2016 anti-government coup, where military leaders failed to seize power from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that critics say will present a pro-government distortion of the events.
The hand of Erdogan, who many have accused of reshaping Turkey to better suit his authoritarian and Islamist ideals, can be felt in these reforms. He has often used education to further his agendas, such as expanding imam-hatip schools meant to train imams to also include the national curriculum.
Many devout Muslims (as well as Christians) prefer creationism to evolution. A 2011 poll found that 60 percent of Turkish adults reject evolution in favor of creationism. In Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy, it is forbidden to teach evolution in schools. Turkey's education system, at least nominally, is secular.