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Education and Schools

Turkey - Education and Schools

The Turkish education system is quite extensive due to the education reforms that happened in 2005. This entails a total of 12 years’ compulsory education for both boys and girls, after which students may be admitted to a university.

The education system’s organization is as follows:

• 2-3 years of optional pre-primary education (usually for children of ages between 3-5 years)
• 4 years of primary school (ilkogretim)
• 4 years of middle school
• 4 years of compulsory high school (lise)
• University (optional)

Pre-primary education is optional since its major purpose is to enhance physical, mental and sensory maturities of children and to enable them acquire good habits so as they can prepared for primary education. Students can complete all three stages of compulsory education in public schools. Alternatively, students can opt to attend private schools.

Turkish students are required to take entry exams before gaining admission into a university or institution of advanced learning. The entry exams play an important role in determining if students will gain admission into a four-year undergraduate degree or a two-year education program.

The school day usually begins at 08:30 and ends at 16:30. It is divided by a lunch break from 12:00 to 13:00. Schools in Turkey lack cafeterias. Therefore, many students either go back home for lunch or carry lunch to school. To deal with the problem of overcrowding, especially in major cities like Istanbul and Ankara, classroom sessions may be split into two, where each session involves half-day attendance.

Turkish students have a single teacher until they reach the sixth grade. From there on, they have different teachers for different subjects. Despite Turkey’s predominantly Muslim population, state funded schools do not allow prayer. There is the recital of the Istiklal Marsi (national anthem) instead of prayer at the beginning of the school day. In addition, headscarves (hijab) are restricted.

Students in public schools are required to take religion classes. These classes begin halfway through primary school. The religion class focuses on Islam. Foreign students are not required to attend religion class but their participation is welcome.

If you would like your child to attend religion classes, just check with the school and learn about the curriculum. You might change your mind after learning the details depending on your own religious beliefs. Some parents allow their children to attend religion classes just so that they can have a better experience of the Turkish culture. Nevertheless, you should make your decision based on whether or not you think your child will be comfortable attending the optional classes.

It is important to know that physical punishment is not a taboo in Turkish schools. If you are from a western country where laying hands on a student by a teacher will cost them their job, bear in mind that at the very least, a number of teachers in Turkey are permitted to pinch the ears of an undisciplined student. However, this does not necessarily mean that your child will be severely admonished, but it is worth remembering.

Western girls should also not expect the equality between boys and girls that they are used to in their home countries when attending Turkish schools. Rebellious girls are likely to face discipline or expulsion more easily than boys. It should be noted that this tradition is significantly different in private and international schools, where there is a large presence of foreign students.

Public schools and kindergarten

Public schools are offered at every educational level, from kindergarten to university. However, keep in mind that that “public” does not always equal “free”. Years ago, kindergarten was considered unnecessary. Children usually started primary school at the age of six. In the recent years, kindergartens (anaokulu) have been established by primary schools. Kindergartens in Turkey make students ready for advanced school days and tutor some basic lessons. Kindergarten students are also required to put on uniforms just like other students. Kindergarten fees usually cost around YTL 800 per year; the fees cater for the cost of uniforms, food, and other supplies.

Primary school

At 6 years of age, children begin compulsory education even if they have not attended kindergarten. The school year in Turkey is nine months long and lasts from September to June followed by approximately three months’ summer holiday, which includes a number of holidays for Muslim feasts and religious functions.

Primary school students’ uniforms are plain blue in color up to the age of 11, after which students change to uniforms that are specific to their school. Parents are required to buy their students’ uniforms on their own, though they are easily available in local shops.

Primary students are taught the basics of most subjects and foreign languages. English is the most commonly taught language, although French and German are also taught. However, native-speaking foreign language teachers are a luxury uncommon in public schools.

State funded primary schools have many weaknesses. For instance, in the past, the basis of the curriculum centred on examination and memorization to the extreme. For example, information about Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, would be copied from books to paper by hand. Furthermore, public schools in major cities are often overcrowded. Class sizes of 50 to 60 students are common in Istanbul, making it almost impossible for a number of students to grasp much of what they are being taught.

Secondary school

While some students leave school at the age of 14 and enter the work force the following year, many do continue to secondary school (lise). However, unlike primary schools, Turkish secondary schools are not free and their cost can range from hundreds to thousands of lira per year.

Private and international schools

Many expat parents opt to send their children to international schools because of the problems of language barriers and overcrowding associated with public schools. Private schools are becoming increasingly popular in Turkey because many people do not have confidence in the Turkish public school system.

As the average family’s income grows, Turkish parents have gradually become aware of the weaknesses of the public school system. Many now opt to send their children to private schools (kolej/ozellise) featuring small class sizes, qualified teachers, and extra curricular and athletic activities. However, tuition fees for private and international schools are often higher than those of public schools.

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