UNICEF Global     TR
Leave your contact details to get regular news from UNICEF

6.2 Aim and content of education

Since 2003-2004, curriculum methodology has been reformed throughout the education system so as to ensure that students contribute actively to the formation of knowledge through critical thinking, rather than being passive receivers of information. In secondary education, and especially vocational education, several projects including EU and World Bank-supported projects have been implemented to increase the quality and relevance of teaching and the curriculum. A common syllabus for technical and vocational secondary education is one innovation. The Government’s Annual Programme for 2012 mentions the updating of curricula, the effectiveness of school guidance and counseling service and the relevance of professional and vocational education as outstanding issues in education quality. Some further curriculum development will be needed following the restructuring of the education system in 2012. Already, for example, additional hours have been allocated for games-type activities in grades 1-3 of primary school. Despite all these efforts, education often still appears insufficiently child-centred, with centralised regulations, examinations and curricula - and force of habit - limiting the ability of schools and teachers to tailor the content of education to the needs, characteristics and interests of the child. Curriculum changes may not be supported by the timely updating of educational materials. Teacher training too may fail to keep up with curriculum changes. There is also a need for better assessment of the impact of changes made.

School hours and subjects and opportunities for children to pursue their own interests appear limited, at least by Western standards, although more optional classes are being introduced for grades 5-8 (the second phase of primary education) under the restructuring of the education system in 2012. The need to support schoolchildren’s participation in religious, cultural, sporting, artistic, scientific, and social activities and excursions, and to ensure the availability of trained subject teachers, is acknowledged, but policies and resources for doing so are unclear.

There is a heavy reliance on multiple-choice examinations, especially for entrance to university. Partly as a result, over a million children attend fee-paying private cramming schools each year as well as their regular schools, a situation which not only exacerbates inequalities of opportunity but also negatively affects the content, aims and process of education in the formal education system from the upper grades of primary education onwards. The time, energy and money of families and children are spent acquiring skills to solve multiple-choice questions rather than critical thinking, creative writing or proper self-expression. In addition, children attending cramming schools – and often making several journeys to and from school each day - are deprived of their rights to rest, leisure and play.

Educational curricula and materials may not adequately reflect the principles stated in the Convention, life skills education is limited, and while human rights and child rights education are integrated into the curriculum to some extent, their effectiveness is unclear. A renewed effort is being made in this area through the three-year EU-funded project “Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education in Turkey” which was launched by the Ministry of National Education in 2012 with the technical support of the Council of Europe.

The restructuring of the education system in 2012 has led to concern that curricula for the second phase of primary education, which are to be vocationally oriented for many students, may be unbalanced and prevent children from completing primary education without sufficient basic skills. Adding to these concerns, many children are to follow the second phase of primary education in religious ‘imam hatip’ schools, and most others are likely to spend several hours per week on optional subjects mainly of a religious nature. The increasing religious content of education - religious education reflecting the majority current of Islam has long been compulsory in primary education and available in ‘imam hatip’ secondary schools and separate Koran courses – needs to be reconciled with children’s freedom of opinion and with parental rights to bring up children according to their own beliefs.

The formal education system

Primary education: Primary education is mandatory, and free in public institutions. All girls and boys in Turkey are obliged to enrol in primary education for eight years (increased from five years in 1997). It is the responsibility of parents and guardians – and of public officials, from provincial governor to school principal - to ensure that all children within their jurisdiction continue schooling up to the end of primary education. Until 2011, children normally started primary education after reaching the age of six (Parents who feel their children are not ready for school are able to postpone school starting by one year).  Under the restructuring of the education system approved by Parliament in March 2012, the age of compulsory primary schooling is to start at the end of September of the year in which the child completes her or his fifth year of age. The Ministry of National Education has clarified that for the 2012-2013 school year children aged 66 months by the end of September 2012 must begin their primary education, while children aged more than 60 but less than 66 months as of the same date may be enrolled if their parents apply in writing and they are understood to have reached a sufficient stage of development. In the 2011-12 school year, 10,979,301 children were enrolled in primary school throughout Turkey (including 607,890 “open” primary school students seeking to complete their primary education belatedly). As approximately 1.5 cohorts were due to start their primary education in 2012-13, the number of primary school children will have increased.

The restructuring of 2012 divides primary education into two separate phases of four years each. Until now, primary education has followed a single curriculum (except for schools for children with severe disabilities). Under the restructuring, however, only the first phase will follow a common curriculum, while the second phase (also referred to as “middle school”) will be conducted either in general primary schools or in other types of school with a vocational bias - similar to those available at secondary level. For the 2012-2013 school year, the only type of non-general middle school available is the religious (‘imam-hatip’) school. This restructuring means that among existing primary schools, some have been converted to first-phase schools, some to general second-phase (middle) schools, and some to imam-hatip middle schools, while others for practical reasons continue to provide more than one of these kinds of schooling for the time being. However, all children who had already completed grade 5 as of the end of the 2011-12 school year are continuing to study according to the general curriculum they were previously following. Separately, the restructuring envisages more optional classes including optional classes on The Koran and the Life of the Prophet in the second phase of primary education (and also in secondary education).

Secondary education: Article No. 27 of the Basic Law of National Education states that: “Each student who has accomplished the primary education and got the right to continue on to secondary education has the right to benefit from all the opportunities according to their interests, capability and abilities.” Secondary education is available either in general high schools with an academic curriculum or in various kinds of technical and vocational high schools including ‘imam-hatip’ schools.  Entrance to schools designated “Anatolian” high schools (which have an additional foreign language emphasis) or to science high schools (a type of general high school) is through competitive entrance examination. Starting in 2005, the duration of secondary education was extended from three years to four years. Under the restructuring of 2012, a four-year high school education is compulsory (although a three-year fast-track for successful children is under consideration). In the 2011-2012 school year, 4,756,286 children and young people were enrolled in secondary education schools throughout Turkey, including 940,268 “open” secondary education students. Of these, 56% were in general high schools and 44% in vocational or technical high schools.

Official secondary education policy continues to favour increasing the number of students opting for technical and vocational schools while increasing opportunities for students to change direction within the system. To this end, the number of different kinds of schools has been reduced and multi-curriculum schools have been favoured. Subjects are given as independent “modules” rather than consecutive courses, in order to increase the flexibility of the system.

At the end of secondary education, there is another centralised national examination for entrance to various higher education programs. Private schools are available for those who can afford them but play a relatively small role in the Turkish formal education system, accounting for less than 3% of students at primary level and less than 4% at secondary level. However, a high proportion of students attend private cramming schools outside normal school hours to prepare them for the key examinations.

Roles and responsibilities: The Ministry of National Education is responsible for formal, informal and non-formal education activities. Most decisions regarding the organisation of instruction, personnel management, planning and resource allocation are made by the central organisation of the Ministry in Ankara. The structure of the Ministry has been criticised on account of its highly centralised structure and its many vertical divisions. Substantial changes were made in 2011, partly to address these criticisms. The changes included the merger of the general directorates of primary education and preschool education into a single General Directorate of Basic Education and the consolidation of general directorates responsible for technical and vocational education. Within the Ministry units, new structures (“group presidencies”) and posts (“experts”) were established for key functions, and there was a high turnover of adminsitrators and other staff.

Providing schools with more autonomy while enhancing the ability of the Ministry to monitor their performance could result in more efficient and transparent governance, stronger school autonomy and local administration ownership. In practice, online and electronic systems like “e-school” and “e-investment” have substantially increased the monitoring capacity of the central organisation but there have been no major gains in school autonomy. A study on school financing is currently under way as part of the cooperation between Turkey and UNICEF.

In addition to Parliament, the government and the Ministry, the autonomous Higher Education Council is a significant actor in children’s education through its control of teacher-training as well as the Student Selection and Placement Centre, which is responsible for key examinations. A few schools, such as military high schools, fall under public institutions other than the Ministry of National Education. Local Authorities (especially Special Provincial Administrations) provide assistance and support to the education sector including school building and maintenance. A range of specialist and non-specialist Turkish academic institutions, think-tanks, private companies and non-government organisations contribute research and recommendations on education for children and/or are involved in charitable activities such as school building or improvement, supporting school attendance through mobilisation campaigns and grants, and providing volunteers. These organisations include: the Education Reform Initiative (ERG); the Turkish Education Association (TED), the Turkey Education Volunteers Foundation (TEGV), the Society for the Support of Contemporary Living (ÇYDD), and the Contemporary Education Foundation (ÇEV).


UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org