Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Education in Turkey Part 2

I found this great quote from Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey. I would like to start off with this post with this quote:
“Milletleri kurtaranlar, yalniz ve ancak öğretmenlerdir” “Teachers are the one and only people who save nations” 

This post will have two parts. The first will go into more detail of the impacts of the 1997 law which extended the period of compulsory education of Turkey’s children to eight years. The second half of the post will look at the new compulsory education law which was passed in April 2012, its changes to Turkey’s educational system, controversy, and its potential impacts.

While the 1997 Basic Education Law has not been around for very long and there is a limited number of studies evaluating its impact – the problem being that this reform is relatively recent, which limits the ability to conduct a decent assessment of its impact on the quality of education in Turkey. However, the World Bank together with the Turkish Ministry of Education looked at the state of education in Turkey as shown by data collected by PISA testing. PISA is the Programme for International Student Testing, conducted by the OECD, evaluating educational attainment in both member and non-member countries, by looking at the performance of 15 year olds in math, science, and reading. 

The analysis has found that enrollment of 15 year old students in Turkey rose from 50% in 2001-02 to 67% in 2009. If one looks at just female 15 year old students in the same years, enrollment rose from 43% to 66%. Turkey added approximately 1.5 million students to its rolls in secondary schools. PISA data also shows that children of disadvantaged backgrounds improved at a higher rate than students of privileged backgrounds. This means that access to universal education supports disadvantaged in succeeding academically and economically. Furthermore, analysts have found that socio-economic background has become less important in 2009 than in 2003, meaning that basic universal education could potentially reduce socio-economic inequality in the next generation. 

The differences between the 1997 Basic Education Law and the 2012 “4+4+4” law include: the 2012 law expands compulsory education to 12 years from 8 years as mandated in 1997, the 2012 law now allows parents to choose whether to send their kids to religious schools (called Imam Hatip schools), and lowers the age apprenticeship from 15 to 11 years old.

The 2012 “4+4+4” reform, divides a child’s educational career into three parts; elementary, middle, and high school. The 1997 reform eliminated the middle school and mandated that the eight compulsory years of schooling be in the same school. The 2012 reform also brings back the option for parents to enroll their kids in vocational or religious classes prior to the 9th grade (at the age of 15) back to the 5th grade (at the age of 10/11).  Critics of the new law say that the 5th grade is too early for children to leave a basic curriculum in favor of a more specialized one, be it religious or vocational. This law could lead some parents to pull their daughters out of school permanently in favor of the religious schooling, an option offered by the 2012 law.

Furthermore, the “4+4+4” reform may potentially handicap students from urban poor and rural parts of Turkey, since students must compete to enter high school by taking standardized exams. By opening up an option withdrawing from a basic curriculum in favor of religious or vocational training in the 5th grade, those students will not have the educational background to compete with their colleagues on high school entrance exams. By choosing vocational or religious classes at such an early age, children are locked into a vocation without the ability to change their minds about their professional future. 

Lastly, one can also debate the issue of informed consent. Is a child as young as 10 or 11 really mature enough to make a decision about their educational and professional future? I believe children that young are not mentally equipped to make informed decisions, then is it up to the parents or the state to make the decision? While this is a separate discussion, it is important to mention this issue.   

While young Turks are enrolling and staying in school in greater numbers, Turkey can still has room to dramatically improve student performance. According to Guven Sak, a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News and head of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), Turkey’s population still “… has only 6.5 years of schooling on average.” According to the same PISA test results discussed earlier, Turkey placed 32nd among 34 OECD countries and 40% on Turkey’s 15 year old students are not able to obtain basic competence level in mathematical literacy. So, educational reform is necessary for the benefit of Turkey’s children. The type of educational reform that is necessary for Turkey is a far more difficult question to answer.

The 2012 educational reform law was passed in Turkey’s parliament after street protests, fist-fights between opposing politicians, and severe criticism from teachers. Time will show how this new education law will impact Turkey’s educational system.


Cameron-Moore, Simon “Feature - Turkish school reforms raise debate on Islamism,” Reuters, 20 March 2012. Can be found at the following address: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/03/20/uk-turkey-education-idUKBRE82J0GB20120320 

Cameron – Moore, Simon “Turkey passes school reform law viewed by critics as Islamic,” Al Arabiya, 30 March 2012. Can be found at the following address: http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/03/30/204265.html

 Finkel, Andrew “What’s 4+4+4?” The New York Times,” 23 March 2012. Can be found at the following address: http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/turkeys-education-reform-bill-is-about-playing-politics-with-pedagogy/?_r=1 

Mocan, Leyla “The Impact of Education on Wages: Analysis of an Education Reform in Turkey,” Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, 24 February 2013. Can be found at the following address: http://www.aefpweb.org/sites/default/files/webform/LMocan_AEFPPaper.pdf 

Naqvi, Naveed Hassan “Closing the Gap in Turkey: Evidence of Improved Quality and Reduced Inequality in an Expanding Education System” The World Bank, 17 July 2013. Can be found at the following address: http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/closing-gap-turkey-evidence-improved-quality-and-reduced-inequality-expanding-education-system

Nihan Köseleci Blanchy & Aytuğ Şaşmaz, “PISA 2009: Where does Turkey Stand?” Turkish Policy. Can be found at the following address: http://www.turkishpolicy.com/dosyalar/files/nihan_aytug.pdf 

Sabral, Jody “New Education Bill Revives Koran Studies In Turkish Schools” Al-Monitor, 16 May 2012. Can be found at the following address:  http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/turkish-education-reform-passed.html##ixzz2nlnkEFkv

Schliefer, Yigal “Turkey: Proposed Education Reform Bill Gets Failing Grade,” EurasiaNet,  27 February 2012. Can be found at the following address: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/65058

“Turkey police break up education bill protest,” Al Jazeera, 28 march 2012. Can be found at the following address: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2012/03/201232920153676163.html 

“Turkish MPs fight as controversial schools bill passed” BBC, 31 March 2012. Can be found at the following address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17571131

Zapata, Julianne, et. al.“Education Policy Outlook: Turkey,” Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, http://www.oecd.org/edu/EDUCATION%20POLICY%20OUTLOOK%20TURKEY_EN.pdf

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Education in Turkey

Those of you that have read my posts before, I am somewhat oriented towards jobs outside of the USG mission where my husband serves. With that said, my employment prospects are governed by agreements signed by the government of the host country and the government of the United States of America.  In about six months we will be moving to Turkey. The Turkish government agreed to issue work permits for those spouses that wish to work in the education and educational sectors, while permits to work in other sectors are issued on a case by case basis. 

Since education is one of the fields where I can work locally, I decided that I will start with the state of education in Turkey. I would like to start with a few numbers first. Turkey has just under 80 million citizens. Just under 21 million of those citizens are between the ages of 0 and 14 years old. The Turkish government spends about 2.9 percent of its GDP on education. When looking at overall literacy in Turkey it is 94.1 percent. When broken up by gender, the literacy rate of the female population is 90.3 percent (a 2011 estimate), while the literacy rate of males is 97.9 percent. On average, boys will spend 14 years in school, while girls will spend 13 years in school (a 2010 estimate).

Since the early 1970s successive Turkish governments attempted to extend compulsory education for all children from five to eight years. Success came with the passage of a law in 1997 which created a new eight year compulsory education system which included funding for education, additional infrastructure, teachers and administrators, as well as incentives for families to convince them to send their children to school. During the first four years implementation, the government spent approximately $2 billion dollars, enrolled 1.1 million children, and raised enrollment rates from 85.63 to 96.30 percent. Girls in rural areas benefitted especially, enrollment of girls rose by an impressive 160 percent (when looking at areas where schools had the greatest gender disparities) in the first year of the program’s implementation.

To improve access and quality of education, the Turkish government focused on building and rehabilitating school buildings, closing of ailing village schools and implementing bussing and boarding schemes for affected students. Additionally, low income students were provided schoolbooks and meals free of charge. In order to keep kids in school past the 5th year, the government also moved the primary school diploma award from the 5th to 8th grade. Apparently, the majority of Turkish parents believe that receiving a diploma is not just prestigious, but also signals to the market that their child is ready to start working. Therefore, changing qualifications for receiving a diploma from completion of fifth grade to completion of 8th grade, incentivized parents to keep their kids in school longer. 

The government also moved the minimum apprenticeship age from 12 to 15 years, thus removing the incentive to pull a 12 year old out of school to join an apprenticeship program. While introducing a uniform curriculum, the government cancelled all religious and vocational electives, in favor of a broad based education for all school children, creating a broad and uniform educational program for all children irrespective of where they go to school.

Rapid implementation of the new compulsory education program also attracted private donations in favor of better education for all children. The biggest beneficiaries of the educational reform were children from rural and poor urban areas of Turkey. Within that rural and poor urban group, girls gained the most since the reform provided them with access to additional years of education, which in turn opened doors to more and better paying jobs, higher income levels, and a better life overall. 

On April 17, 2012 the Turkish Parliament, the Grand National Assembly, has passed a new law on compulsory education. I will discuss the new law’s changes and potential impacts on compulsory education in Turkey in my next post.


Dulger, Ilhan “Turkey: Rapid Coverage for Compulsory Education—The 1997 Basic Education Program,” The World Bank, 2004. The paper was presented at the ‘Scaling Up Poverty Reduction: A Global Learning Process and Conference’ Shanghai, May 25–27, 2004 and can be found here: http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2004/12/06/000090341_20041206151725/Rendered/PDF/30801TUR0Basic1ion01see0also0307591.pdf

The World Factbook: Turkey, Central Intelligence Agency, 13 November 2013. Can be found here: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tu.html

“Turkey Demographics Profile 2013” Index Mundi, 21 February 2013. Can be found here: http://www.indexmundi.com/turkey/demographics_profile.html