Pictures of human genitalia have been removed from textbooks in Turkey, prompting some to believe that the government is promoting conservative values with too much zeal.
Diagrams in the new edition of a standard biology textbook that portray the inner workings of the penis and vagina have been replaced with pictures of baby ducklings, polar bears and a human mother with her newborn baby. The pictures in question are located in the chapter titled “Reproduction, Growth and Development in Living Beings” assigned to sixth graders in the country.
Last year’s edition featured graphic photos and explicit details relating to the human reproductive system. That has been replaced this year by photos of baby animals, with no explanatory text included. Specific wording such as “breast” and “virginity” have also been removed.
“In the past, the inner part of the genitalia was explained to children in a way that would be appropriate for their development, just like heart and kidneys were depicted,” Abdullah Tunali, a leading psychologist and a former regional head of the teachers’ union Egitim-Sen, was quoted as saying by Hurriyet. “But the science and technology textbook for sixth graders has been heavily censored this year, in line with the moral codes imposed by the government,” he said.
The Islamic-rooted government has been criticized for the increasing influence of religion in the Turkish government, as well as creating an Islamic-centered education system.
Ahmet Zehir, professor of biology in Marmara University, fears the censorship will only harm the country’s children.
“Why are these pictures being removed? Children already see them for real. They should learn about the opposite sex from the right source, which is textbooks. It will affect their whole life. Why do you do this to our children? Why this fear?”
The issue is not the first time a controversy has been created over the government’s education policies.
The government started this year’s school year by introducing a new school reform that places students in schools based on geographic location and final exam scores. The move has resulted in over 40,000 students, some of them non-Muslim, being placed in religions Imam Hatip-style schools, which mandates that its students must take Sunni-based religious classes.
The new system allows students to choose which school they would like to attend using a lottery system based on final exam scores. Those who do not get into their first choice school are placed in the school closest to their homes.
“The government failed to provide any sound knowledge-based evidence as to why this would be better than the previous one,” said Batuhan Aydagul, director of the Education Reform Initiative (ERI), a non-governmental think tank at Istanbul’s Sabanci University.
In addition, the government is dealing with over 350,000 Syrian refugees who have been thrust upon Turkey’s education system.