Education in Turkey

Education in Turkey: In Search of Participation in a Country With Relatively Many Children With Special Educational Needs

The Turkish educational system is subdivided into primary, secondary and higher education. There are private and public schools. Public schools are funded by the government. Parents pay no or just a small fee. Private schools are expensive and only accessible to a select few. The quality of private education in general is higher than that of public education. The opportunities children have are subject to their background.


There are disproportionate differences in income between different social classes, but also between different regions. Western Turkey is significantly more prosperous than the eastern part of the country. Income and standard of living here are in stark contrast to those in the industrialized north and west. The difference between east and west is also apparent in public facilities. Education and health care in the south-eastern part of Turkey suffer gravely, partly because of a shortage of staff, from deprivation.



Onderwijs in Turkije, Kusadasi

Primary Education

In 2013, the Turkish educational system was reformed. Primary education now consists of eight years, counted from the age of seven onwards. Parents do not have a free choice of schools, unless their children attend a private school. In Turkey, children are placed geographically. The state decides which school you attend.Because primary education covers more years than in most countries, it is partially intertwined with secondary education. All students leave primary school at the age of thirteen and have ‘the same’ level when they start secondary school.

Primary education follows a national curriculum which consists of obligatory and optional subjects. Contrary to teachers in The Netherlands, Turkish teachers do not have freedom of choice in the textbooks they use. Which books are used, is decided, nationally, by the ministry of Education. All textbooks for primary school education have been free of charge since 2004. On average, children follow six lessons a day in mixed classes. In years one up to and including year five, students have a group teacher. After year five, most subjects are taught by subject teachers, as is also the case in secondary school in The Netherlands. In public schools, most children attend school in shifts: from 06.00 a.m. until 12.00 a.m. or from 12.00 a.m. until 06.00 p.m. The system of shifts is also used in for instance Cambodia and Croatia and is a way to solve the shortage of places in schools. Contrary to private education, where classes consist of an average of twenty students, classes in public schools often consist of forty children.

Secondary Education

When you reach the age of fourteen, you go to secondary school (ortaöğretim) for a period of four years.

Secondary schools offer six different profiles: fen bilimleri(natural sciences), Türkçe- matematik (Turkish mathematics), yabançi dil (foreign languages), sosyal bilimler (social sciences), sanat (art) or spor (sports). Secondary education is concluded with the Lise Dipomasi, which gives access to university entry examination.

Students are allowed to choose their own profile according to their interests. Compared to the Dutch educational system, finishing secondary education equals finishing intermediate vocational education (mbo). This is very different compared to the Dutch system, where secondary education is subdivided into learning levels instead of themes.

Despite educational reforms, the regional differences in Turkey are still significant. Especially in the poorer regions, many youngsters leave school at the age of fifteen, the age they are allowed to work.

Higher (Professional) Education

A certificate from secondary education is not enough when you want to go to a school for higher (professional) education. A school certificate is necessary, but two additional exams have to be taken: Yükseköğretime Giriş Sinavı and Lisans Yerleştirme Sinavı. Yükseköğretime Giriş Sinavıis a national entry exam for higher (professional) education and Lisans Yerleştirme Sinavı is a bachelor placement exam. It is necessary to thoroughly prepare for this exam, as the level is much higher than the curriculum offered at secondary school. The placement exam is tough. Only 40% of the 1.6 million aspiring students is accepted at a school for higher (professional) education.

Higher education consists of three types of education: universities, higher technological institutions and higher professional schools. In Turkey, all these types of education are called ‘university’, a situation very different from that in The Netherlands. The bachelor course in Turkey takes up four years, after which a master course of at least two years can be taken. This means that on average, the time spent in school is much longer than in The Netherlands. Turkey has 165 universities, of which 103 are state universities. The other 62 are private and are only accessible to the elite.

Kusadasi, Education, Turkey

Special Education

Turkey has a system for special education, in which much has been invested the past few years. There are schools and institutions for children with special educational needs. There is a certain amount of inclusion: children with a ‘light’ disability (for instance ADHD or a learning problem) are taught one-on-one in a regular school. An additional teacher practices the basic subjects with the children with special needs. Children with a ‘moderate’ to ‘severe’ disability are placed in special schools. Compared to other European countries, there are a lot of students with a ‘moderate’ to ‘severe’ disability in Turkey: about 4% of all children. This high percentage is mainly caused by the limited medical knowledge of parents when children fall ill and for instance have a very high fever, or develop a high fever right after birth. The schools we visited therefore also play an important role in educating parents. Advice, but also lessons in reading and writing are important activities apart from the regular classes. Furthermore, there are also workshops where children are taught for instance how to do fancy work or routine production work. It is remarkable that special education is accessible to children between the ages of seven and twenty-two. It is hard to get young children with a disability to attend school because of the taboo surrounding special education. Classes are remarkably small. Groups of eight children with two teachers are standard. Turkey has a system with educational assistants, but teachers with a university degree are highly favoured. In the workshops, skills are taught which can lead to work. Sheltered workshops are also being set up. There are laws and regulations for hiring people with a disability. Thus, inclusion is stimulated. Regular exchanges between students from special and regular education take place. This is a way to get to know each other and learn to respect each other.

Aydin, Turkey