UNICEF Global     TR

* Turkey faces opportunities and challenges in ensuring equitable access to schooling for all children, regardless of their gender or background, improving the quality of the education offered, and reducing disparities in quality from place to place and school to school.

* Almost all children in Turkey are now receiving an eight-year primary education, which is free of charge.Efforts to ensure 100% primary education and gender parity nevertheless need to continue, since some children, especially girls, still drop out or do not attend regularly for reasons like poverty and/or child labour, conservative social norms, domestic responsibilities, low expectations or adaptation problems. The lowering of the primary school starting age from 6 to 5 as of 2012, and the division of primary education into two phases of four years each, could create a risk of non-participation due to late starting, lack of school readiness or failure to make the transition between the phases.

* Net enrolment in four-year secondary education has risen to 67% and gross enrolment to 93%. However, there are wide inter-regional, urban-rural, socioeconomic and gender discrepancies both in enrolment in secondary education and in attendance, for reasons which include the need for children to earn income or work in the home, and discouragement. As of 2012, the government has made four-year secondary education compulsory. It will require a great effort to achieve 100% enrolment and satisfactory attendance, especially among disadvantaged groups.

* The quality of education received by most children is not of a high standard. Educational outcomes, whether measured by PISA tests, national examinations or the perceptions of academics and employers, are for the most part unsatisfactory. While a relatively high proportion of children like school, the education system suffers – inter alia - from the impact of multi-choice examinations and cramming schools, and a lack of a child-centred approach and child participation.

* There are wide disparities from place to place and school to school in the quality of education and the educational environment. Out-of-pocket spending by households, which is high, adds to the advantages enjoyed by children of parents in higher-income groups. At the same time, existing policies for monitoring and ensuring quality in all primary schools need to be pursued and further developed, and extended to secondary education.

* Despite policies in place, a large number of disabled children do not seem to be benefiting from their right to quality education. Children whose first language is not Turkish may face difficulties in the first years of primary school and fall behind from an early age. The participation of many Roma children in the education is observed to be low. There is a need for evidence-based policies to ensure that children in disadvantaged groups such as these fully enjoy their right to education.

*Public sector education expenditures have increased in real terms in recent years but have remained below 4% of GDP, notwithstanding the young age structure of the population. There are also deficiencies with respect to buildings, teacher numbers and teacher training. The restructuring of the education system of early 2012 has added to the existing need for additional resources for education. At the same time, steps need to be taken to guarantee that public resources for education are distributed more fairly.


6.1 Children's rights in education

Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all governments recognize the right to education of all children, that primary education should be made “compulsory and available free to all” and that governments should take measures to ensure that secondary education is accessible to every child. Educational settings and processes must also take account of all the other rights of the child because, as stated in General Comment 1 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Children do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing through the school gates”. Educational services should be provided without discrimination in healthy and safe environments, where children are protected from violence and abuse, and where their right to participation is respected.


6.2 Aim and content of education

According to Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, education should aim to develop a child’s personality and capabilities to his or her full potential and develop his or her respect towards the natural environment, basic human rights, parents, cultural and national values, and civilizations other than his or her own. Turkish definitions of the aim of education such as the formal definition contained in article 2 of the Basic Law of National Education and the more succinct and definition given in the Government’s Annual programme for 2012 contain some of these elements, as well as others.


6.3 Financial, physical and human resources

The extent to which girls and boys in Turkey are able to enjoy their rights to education, and to enjoy all their rights in educational settings, depend to a considerable extent on the financial, physical and human resources available in the education sector. Aside from the overall level of these resources, their quality and - perhaps above all - the evenness of their distribution are problematic.


6.4 Access to education

Despite all efforts made so far, some children in Turkey are still unable to complete even a primary education, and many cannot attend secondary education. Other children are not attending school regularly. To be out of school is not only to be deprived of the right to a quality education but also to miss out on opportunities for socialisation and potentially on access to other activities and services, and to be exposed to more threats in terms of protection rights.


6.5 Learning outcomes

Children in Turkish schools achieve modest levels of knowledge and abilities by the standards of developed and leading developing countries. In PISA (Programme of International Student Assessment) tests conducted in 2006 (Ministry of National Education: PISA 2006 Ulusal Ön Raporu [PISA 2006 Preliminary National Report]), Turkish fifteen year-olds came 44th in science, 38th in reading and 43rd in mathematics out of the 57 OECD-member and other countries where the tests were held. Moreover, the proportion of Turkish children who did not achieve “basic competency levels” was as high as 32 percent in reading, 47 percent in science and 52 percent in mathematics, suggesting that a large number of children have been unable to acquire basic qualifications necessary for active participation in social life. In the 2009 PISA tests ((Ministry of National Education: PISA 2009 Ulusal Ön Raporu [PISA 2009 Preliminary National Report]. Also OECD (2010), PISA 2009 Results: Executive Summary at http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/34/60/46619703.pdf), Turkish students had higher scores but still came only 32nd among 34 OECD countries in science literacy. As many as 30% did not demonstrate basic competency. The lack of appropriate skills even of the most successful secondary education graduates – with the possible exception of graduates of a few elite schools - is a common complaint both of employers and of universities. There is a long way to go if all young people in Turkey are to gain a set of foundation skills, including critical thinking, digital literacy, foreign languages and health education, for life, further learning and employment.


6.6 The school experience

Regardless of the quality of education provided or their individual achievements, the experiences of children at school are a major determinant of the happiness of their childhoods, and can continue to affect them throughout their lives. In this sense, the school environment comprises not only the buildings and facilities provided, the curriculum and materials, the teaching methodology, extra-curricular activities and counselling services, but also on opportunities for participation, school-community links and many other factors such as travelling distances, friends, exam pressures, perceived disaster risk or the incidence of violence or discrimination. Ideally, the school environment would support the well-being and full development of the child in every respect. Children would feel safe at school and achieve a sense of belonging. This may be particularly important in locations, such as poor urban areas, where children are disadvantaged and families and the community are not well to support them.


6.7 Monitoring systems

Monitoring systems are necessary in order to determine the situation in schools in all areas from enrolment and attendance to the quality of education and the school environment, assess the implementation and impact of policy initiatives, generate evidence for further policy steps and guide the allocation of resources where they are most needed. A system of Primary Education Institution Standards (İKS), incorporating UNICEF Child-Friendly School criteria, has been developed in recent years. The İKS system defines goals which all schools should aim to achieve and processes for achieving each of them. Under these headings it envisages the collection of data for a large number of objective and subjective indicators of each school’s existing situation and progress. The information collected is to be used to draft school development plans and to guide allocations of resources at the district and provincial levels. The system was rolled out to all primary schools in 2011, following the necessary training activities, and enabled an initial 32,797 primary schools to monitor their performance against common quality standards, including their efforts to ensure enrolment and attendance for 535,522 girls and 580,296 boys of primary school age.


6.8 Education of children with disabilities and/or special needs

Despite improvements, many children with disabilities or special educational needs may not be benefiting, or benefiting fully, from their right to education for reasons including access issues, inadequate arrangements within the education system, and low parental and societal expectations. In its concluding observations of June 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern “that a large number of school age children with disabilities do not enjoy their rights to education and a high percentage of children with disabilities remain in special education programs” and recommended that the State further encourage the inclusion of children with disabilities in society and their integration into the regular educational system, “including by providing special training to teachers and by making schools more accessible”.


6.9 Children using other languages

There are many children in Turkey whose home language is not Turkish. Most of these are children from families living in, or originating from, Southeast Turkey, with Kurdish or Arabic as their home language. Judging by their geographical distribution, these children may often be among those who receive the least cognitive stimulation at home and are therefore least well-prepared for school life. However, the medium of instruction in the education system is Turkish. Exceptions are made only for the schools of the minorities (in effect, the Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Jews) which are officially recognized under the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 (the treaty by which Turkey gained international recognition), and for a small number of secondary schools and international schools which use English or other European languages. Moreover, children whose mother tongue is not Turkish do not receive any additional support at school. The danger is that the extra challenge which these children face when they begin primary school (or preschool, if they attend preschool) may prevent them from benefiting fully from the education provided, leaving them at a disadvantage throughout their schooling and in later life. Only limited research has been done on this politically sensitive issue. However, a quantitative study of the determinants of the drop-out phenomenon in primary education found that children with a home language other than Turkish are less likely to continue attending primary schools even after making allowance for other socio-cultural and economic characteristics of their families (Fatoş Gökşen et al.: Türkiye’de İlköğretim Okullarında Okulu Terk ve İzlenmesi ile Önlenmesine Yönelik Politikalar [Dropping out and policies for its monitoring and prevention in primary education schools in Turkey], ERG, AÇEV & KADER, 2006). In addition, analysis based on TIMMS data (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) showed that, other characteristics being constant, a child scores lower in the examination when Turkish is used less in his or her home (Ebru Erberber, presentation delivered at Bogazici [Bosphorus] University, 2008).

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