Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Turkey


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‌‌Turkey’s educational context

Students: Turkey has made significant improvements in PISA mathematics and science assessments, but remains below the OECD average in reading, mathematics and science. The government has worked to improve the participation of children in education, but participation rates in early childhood education and care are low compared to the OECD average. Turkey has a higher-than-average proportion of underperforming students, and academic achievement is particularly low amongst disadvantaged students from low socio-economic backgrounds. System-level policies, such as the use of academic selection to select and sort students into specific pathways at an early age, hinder equity. The transition into upper secondary education and tertiary education is also highly selective. Graduation rates in upper secondary education and tertiary education for both academic and vocationally oriented programmes are below the OECD average, but they have increased significantly since 2005, and reforms have been introduced at both levels.

Institutions: While schools and their learning environments face many challenges, including a population influx from rural to urban areas, Turkish students have a positive view of their teachers and learning environments. The capacity of school leaders and teachers to respond to school needs can be limited by weak initial education and training and teachers' lack of experience, as well as by the lack of flexibility accorded to schools within the governance structure. At both system and school levels, evaluation and assessment tools are used to understand quality in terms of compliance with central regulations rather than for student improvement. Recent strategies are aimed at a more student-centred approach for improvement.

Governance and funding: Turkey has a highly centralised governance structure where education policy is steered by the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) and, at the tertiary level, by the Council of Higher Education (YÖK). Schools have little autonomy and limited capacity to respond to their needs. Education is publicly funded, but schools can receive contributions from parents through their school-parent associations. The central and provincial governments are responsible for personnel and financial management of schools. Although overall funding has increased in the past decade, data suggests that primary and secondary education are underfunded compared to other OECD countries. Tertiary institutions have more autonomy than schools to address their needs, but central authorities oversee funding and student entrance exams for tertiary institutions.

‌‌Key policy issues

The proportion of the population below age 15 in Turkey is one of the highest among OECD countries; it is very important to ensure that these young people complete their education and are well prepared for the labour force and further learning. Improvements have been made, but both quality and equity remain a challenge. Turkey has various priorities to address, including improving equity between regions and urban and rural areas; addressing the needs of disadvantaged students; preparing quality teachers and school leaders; improving access to and completion of upper secondary education, vocational education and training (VET), and tertiary education; strengthening links to the labour market; and adequately funding the education system.

‌‌Recent policy responses

Many recent reforms have been supported by international organisations, in certain cases beginning as pilot projects designed to transform national education policy. The Basic Education Programme (1997) and theSecondary Project(2006-11), both with the World Bank, aimed to improve quality of education at these different levels. The Master Implementation Plan(2001-05) included multiple projects by UNICEF to improve both equity and quality of the education system. Initiatives in VET and tertiary education have been developed with the European Union to improve alignment with European standards. However, evaluations of certain projects indicate that not all targets or objectives were met and that it is difficult to transform pilot projects into nationwide policy.

To improve education quality and increase participation rates, legislation was introduced in 2012 to increase the number of compulsory years from eight to twelve and to redefine the education system into three levels (primary, lower and upper secondary education) of four years each (Compulsory Education for 12 years [4+4+4]). 

Three key development plans steer education in Turkey: the "Strategic Plan for the Ministry of National Education"(2010-14), the recent Tenth Development Plan (2014-18) and the Lifelong Learning Strategy Paper. To increase funding, the government has provided incentives for private contributions to the education system.


Turkey's 15-year-olds achieve lower-than-average scores in the PISA 2009 reading assessment (464 mean score compared to the OECD average of 493). Their performance in both mathematics and science is also below the OECD average in PISA 2009, but Turkey is among the three countries with the largest performance improvement in PISA assessments of mathematics (between 2003 and 2009) and science (between 2006 and 2009). The impact of socio-economic status on students' reading performance (19%) is higher than the OECD average of 14% (see interactive chart below).


Both secondary and tertiary education attainment in Turkey are lower than the OECD average, but both have increased significantly across generations and more than in most OECD countries (Figure 2). Forty-three percent of 25-34 year-olds have attained secondary education (compared to the OECD average of 82%) and 19% have attained tertiary education (compared to the OECD average of 39%). see interactive chart below.


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