Emine Özdemir
Emre Gönen
Muhsin Polat
Sıdıka Akyüz Ari
Ministry of National Education

Overview of Education System

In Turkey, the National Ministry of Education is responsible for planning, programming, advancing, monitoring, and inspecting all educational and training services and activities.1 After new legislation on primary and secondary education was passed by the Grand National Assembly in 2012, the duration of compulsory education was established as 12 years in Turkey. The new “4+4+4” system covers four years of primary school, four years of lower secondary school, and four years of upper secondary school. The basic structure of the Turkish national education system comprises preprimary education, primary education (primary school and lower secondary school), upper secondary education (high school), and higher education. Exhibit 1 presents the general structure of the Turkish education system.2

Preprimary education is not compulsory and serves children ages 3 to 5 who are not old enough to start primary education. Preprimary education may be provided in independent kindergartens, in nursery classes within a primary school, or in practice classes affiliated with other educational institutions. The objective of preprimary education is to ensure that children develop physically, mentally, and emotionally and acquire good habits, that they are prepared for primary education, that a normal environment is provided for the upbringing of children who come from a disadvantaged background, and that children learn to speak Turkish properly.3

Primary education (ages 5 to 13) lasts eight years, is free of charge, and is compulsory. Primary education is provided in four year primary schools and four year lower secondary schools, which comprise general lower secondary schools and lower secondary schools for imams and preachers. The objective of primary education is ensuring that Turkish children acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, behavior, and habits to become good citizens, that they are raised in accordance with national morals, and that they are prepared for life and for the next level of education according to their interests, talents, and capabilities.4

In the 2014–2015 school year, there were 27,544 primary schools in Turkey, of which 1,205 were private. In that year, there were 5.43 million primary school students (51.2 percent boys and 48.8 percent girls) and 295,252 teachers in total across the public and private school sectors. In addition, there were 16,696 lower secondary schools in Turkey, of which 1,111 were private. There were 5,278,107 lower secondary school students (50.6 percent boys and 49.4 percent girls), and 296,065 teachers across the public and private school sectors.5

Exhibit 1: The General Structure of the Turkish Educational System

Exhibit 1: The General Structure of the Turkish Educational System

Upper secondary education (Grades 9 to 12) lasts four years. It is free of charge and compulsory. In Turkey, there are two types of upper secondary school: general high schools and vocational and technical high schools. General high schools accept students based on their scores on the Passing from Basic Education to Higher Education Examinations (TEOG), which consist of examinations in mathematics, science, foreign languages, religious culture and ethics, history of the Turkish revolution, and Atatürk principles. High schools with a specific focus include Anatolian high schools (where the curriculum emphasizes English and mathematics), science high schools (where the curriculum emphasizes science), fine arts and sports high schools, and social science high schools. Vocational and technical high schools provide education and training leading to different careers. These schools also may accept students based on TEOG test scores if more students apply than the schools can accommodate. Although the curriculum differs according to the specific purpose of each type of school, the goals of secondary education are to provide students in all school types with the following: common, basic, overall knowledge; familiarity with the problems of the individual and society and the ability to seek solutions; awareness that will contribute to the socioeconomic and cultural development of the country; and preparation for higher education, a profession, life, and employment according to student interests and aptitudes.

Higher education includes all the educational institutions that are based on secondary education and provides at least two years of higher education. Universities provide higher education for a fee to students who hold high school diplomas. The objectives of secondary education, in accordance with the general purposes and basic principles of education established at the national level, are as follows:

  • Train students according to the country’s science policies and the need for labor at various levels of society according to their interests, aptitude, and abilities
  • Provide scientific training at various levels
  • Conduct research, exploring the sciences in further detail in order to find solutions to scientific, technical, and cultural problems, especially to problems related to the country
  • Provide society with research results and analyses focusing on the country’s progress and development and involving the coordination of the government and other institutions
  • Publish research results that facilitate scientific and technological progress
  • Provide educational services, such as publishing scientific data, that can improve Turkish society and enlighten the public

Higher education institutions include universities, institutes, colleges, conservatories, vocational colleges, and centers for practice and research.6

In 1963, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) was established as an autonomous institution to advance science and technology, conduct research, and support Turkish researchers. The council is responsible for promoting, developing, organizing, conducting, and coordinating research and development according to national priorities and targets. It acts as an advisory agency to the Turkish government on science and research issues and reports directly to the prime minister.7

In 2007, the Ministry of National Education published a circular on science and arts centers in Turkey. Science and arts centers aim to provide high quality, advanced level education for gifted and talented individuals to enrich their formal education. There is at least one science and arts center in each province of Turkey. Science and arts centers are independent educational institutions designed to enable gifted students to develop awareness of their individual talents and realize their potential fully without interrupting their formal education.8

Although there is no explicit emphasis on mathematics or science in Turkish education, basic competencies in mathematics and science and related educational policies have been promoted since the revision of the primary and secondary school curricula in 2004. In accordance with these national policies, science high schools now play an important role in encouraging students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, collectively known as STEM. The goal of science high schools is to provide students with a strong foundation in mathematics and science so they can pursue STEM programs at the university level and careers in mathematics and science. Students who wish to attend science high schools must pass the Higher Education Exam at the end of eighth grade. The curriculum for science high schools emphasizes mathematics and science considerably more than the curriculum for other high schools. In the 2014–2015 school year, there were 232 science high schools in Turkey.9

Languages of Instruction

According to the Turkish constitution, Turkish is the official language of the country. In primary and secondary education, all instruction is provided in Turkish.