Many reforms in education were made immediately after the foundation of the Republic. The most important was its secularization.
Education has been made a top priority of national development. It has the largest budget of any ministry with an allocation of over 20% of the national budget.
The aim of the Turkish educational system is to nurture productive, happy individuals with broad views on world affairs who will unite in national consciousness and thinking to form an inseparable state, and will contribute to the prosperity of society through their skills. This is thought to be instrumental in making the Turkish nation a creative and distinguished member of the modern world.
Apart from the general educational system, pre-school training is available only on a private basis or with public sector facilities. However, this level of education is not yet common and is limited to about 5-10 % of Turkish pre-school children.
Special Training Institutions
These include Special Education Schools for the mentally or physically handicapped or enhanced learning centers for exceptionally bright children.
The Turkish educational system in both state and private sector is divided into 3 levels:
1. PRIMARY EDUCATION
This level of education consists of Primary School which is compulsory for 5 years, started at the age of 7 generally but, depending on the physical development of children, it can also be at 6.
There is a new trend to change the obligatory period from 5 to 8 years and some pilot schools have already started in some areas.
The national attendance at primary schools is about 96%. In some rural areas parents cannot physically manage to get their children to school.
A special feature of primary schools is that one teacher takes care of all the students in one class, from the first grade and continues with those children for five years until they finish their compulsory education.
The school age population of Turkey is very large and often school buildings and teachers are insufficient to cope. This results in two sessions of school, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This helps to explain why so many children are seen in the streets during weekdays.
The average number of students in each classroom is 25-40, but in some rural areas, where there are not enough teachers, even more students have to fit into the same classroom.
All over the country, in each classroom above the blackboard, a portrait of Ataturk is hung. On one side you will see his Speech to the Turkish Youth and on the other, the National Anthem.
There are no fees for education until college or university. Students attend school in uniforms which are usually blue or very occasionally black. Parents have to buy uniforms, pens, pencils and notebooks.
At the beginning of the week on Monday mornings and at the end of the week during Friday afternoons, flag ceremonies are held with all the teachers and students present in the courtyard or playground of each school.
Each morning, primary school students pledge in chorus to be honest and studious, to protect the young and respect the old, to love their country more than themselves and to give their existence as a present to the Turkish Nation. The chorus is concluded by saying “So happy is the man who says he is a Turk”.
2. SECONDARY EDUCATION
This consists of Middle School and High School, each of which normally takes 3 years. A Middle School can be either independent or annexed to a High School.
In these schools, the system of one teacher for each class changes to a specialist teacher for each subject. Students can choose one foreign language from English, French or German. Religious Education lessons, depending on the present government’s policy, is often optional, and is actually a comparative study of religions rather than only of Islam.
The aims of these schools are to secure a level of general knowledge, develop an awareness of individual and community problems and to contribute to the economic, social and cultural growth of the country as well as preparing students for higher education.
Anatolian, Science, Fine Arts, Vocational, Technical, Islamic Theological and Private High Schools are different from the general High Schools, but are still a part of the Secondary Education system.
The Anatolian, Science and Private High Schools are the best and consequently most popular. In these schools there is an extra year (prep class) at the beginning to teach one foreign language and in the following years, all science lessons are taught in that foreign language.
Students in Middle and High Schools must wear uniforms. The education at this level is free of charge except at the private schools where an average fee is about 3,000 US Dollars per year.
Students show respect for their teachers by addressing them “sir” or “teacher”, or by standing up as a class when a teacher enters the classroom.
3. HIGHER EDUCATION
This consists of universities and schools of further education which are all affiliated to an autonomous Higher Education Council.
There are a total number of 58 universities excluding the private universities with more than one million students in Turkey. Students are admitted to universities through a two-phase examination held once a year. The first phase is for selection and the second for placement. In order to obtain a good future, students want to study in good departments at good universities. This is why they start studying for the entrance exams as much as two years in advance, generally taking private courses as well.
In 1993 for instance 1,154,000 students took entrance exams, out of which 785,000 were selected after the first phase, but only 345,000 of them were actually placed in faculties or schools of further education.
Unlike the earlier educational levels, students have to pay a fee of approximately 100-350 US Dollars per year at higher education facilities.