copy the linklink copied!Chapter 1. The Turkish education system

This chapter provides an overview of the Turkish education system. It sets out the key aspects of governance, financing of education, school structure, teacher and school leader policy and the curriculum, that are relevant to student assessment. It reviews main trends in education, highlighting the significant progress that has been made in recent decades to expand participation and raise learning outcomes. It also highlights where further progress is needed to meet national goals and address inequalities.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

copy the linklink copied!Introduction

Turkey is one of the few countries that has managed to improve student achievement while increasing access to education. Over the past decade, significant investment and reform to Turkey’s education system have enabled a major expansion in participation. The country is aware that its core challenge now is to raise the quality of schooling in order to improve student learning outcomes and reduce the large disparities in performance between regions and across different types of schools. It was with a view to identifying how student assessment can be used more effectively to improve learning outcomes that Turkey commissioned this review. This first chapter provides an overview of schooling in Turkey, how it is structured and policies that affect its operation, as well as a special focus on recent trends in participation, outcomes and equity.

copy the linklink copied!The role of education in Turkey’s development

Education has been central to Turkey’s emergence as a unified republic. Education is increasingly at the heart of the national economic agenda, aimed at achieving convergence with OECD levels of income and productivity. Over the past decade, Turkey’s strong economic growth has enabled a sharp reduction in absolute poverty, with the share of people living below the national poverty line dropping from 28.8% in 2003 to 1.6% in 2014 (OECD, 2016[1]). However, relative poverty and income inequality are still among the highest within the OECD. The share of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) while falling, is more than double the OECD average and almost three times higher for women (see Table 1.1).

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Table 1.1. Education and development in Turkey

 Key indicators


OECD Average

GDP per head, USD, constant prices, constant PPPs, 20161

23 469

38 096

GDP, volume – annual growth rates (%), 20161



Gini coefficient of household disposable income in 2014 (or nearest year)2



Population growth (annual %), 20163



Rural population (percentage of total population), 20163



Unemployment rate, aged 15-24, all persons (%)1



Unemployment rate, aged 15 and above, all persons (%), 20161



Percentage of 18-24 year-olds, NEET (unemployed or inactive) 20161



Percentage of 18-24 year-olds, NEET (unemployed or inactive) women, 20161



Human Development Index (HDI) 20154



Share of population with less than upper secondary education, aged 25-34, 20161



Percentage of adults attaining Level 1 or below in literacy (2016)5



Percentage of attaining Level 1 or below in numeracy (2016)5



GDP: Gross domestic product.

NEET: Not in education, employment or training.

PPP: Purchasing power parity.

Sources: 1. OECD (2018[2]), OECD Statistics, (accessed on 20 February 2018).;

2. OECD (2016[3]), Society at a Glance,; 3. World Bank (2016[4]), World Bank Open Data (Database), (accessed on 20 February 2018);

4. UNDP (2015[5]), Human Development Data (1990-2015), (accessed 19 February 2018); 5. OECD (2016[6]), Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills,

Turkey’s Tenth Development Plan (2014-18) highlights improving skills as one of three overarching objectives, placing particular emphasis on the need to better align the education system with the needs of the labour market. Towards this end, and important for this report, is the emphasis given to developing a curriculum that is less exam-oriented, a transition system that is based on the interests and skills of students and a standards-based evaluation framework that focuses centrally on student learning (Ministry of Development, 2014[7]).

copy the linklink copied!Key features of the education system in Turkey


Turkey has a strong system of education planning and is increasingly focused on the quality of school outcomes

Since 2010, the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) has developed five-year strategic plans for the education sector. These plans provide medium-term objectives monitored by quantitative indicators and set out how the ministry will work to achieve them. They also provide the basis for planning at provincial, district and school levels (MoNE, 2017[8]). With the introduction of strategic plans, the Turkish education system’s initial sustained emphasis on expanding access has given way to a sharper focus on the quality of school outcomes. This is reflected in the 2015-19 Strategic Plan, which includes important measures intended to improve instructional practices including assessment practices and to build the ministry’s capacity to monitor and evaluate education quality (Box 1.1). At the same time, the Ministry of National Education Information System (MEBBIS) provides extensive data on school inputs and conditions. The creation of various electronic platforms has also made information more widely accessible to teachers, schools and parents.

The Ministry of National Education is responsible for all school-level policy

Turkey has one of the most centralised education systems among OECD countries (OECD, 2017[9]). The ministry determines and oversees the implementation of all policy in primary and secondary education, with another central body, the Council of Higher Education, deciding policy at the tertiary level (Figure 1.1). Curriculum development, textbook approval and the framework for assessment practices are all determined centrally. The ministry likewise decides the allocation of human and financial resources to schools via its Provincial Directorates. Through its inspectors in the provincial directorates, the ministry is also responsible for external teacher appraisal and school inspection, though inspectors’ functions were under revision at the time of the OECD review. Among European countries, only in Greece and Luxembourg does the central government concentrate a similar degree of decision-making authority, and their school systems are markedly smaller than Turkey’s. With close to 54 000 public and private schools, 1 million teachers and over 16 million students spread across a territory twice the size of Germany, Turkey has by far the largest school system in Europe.

Such a high degree of centralisation has resulted in a very large national administration (see Figure 1.1), where co-ordination across directorates is a recognised challenge (Celik and Gür, 2013[10]). Turkey has signalled its intention to decentralise education governance in successive action plans, with the goal of bringing government support closer to schools. So far reform has mainly taken the form of moving or “deconcentrating” authority to the ministry’s provincial directorates, rather than the delegation of more responsibilities to local governments or schools (Bayraktar and Massicard, 2012[11]).

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Box 1.1. Measures of student achievement in the Strategic Plan 2015-19

The current Strategic Plan focuses on three priorities: access, quality and institutional capacity. Each priority is measured by quantitative performance indicators and includes targets to be achieved by 2019. The plan also sets out the activities that will be undertaken in support of its priorities and targets:

Priority 1: Access to education – focused on increasing enrolment and reducing early school leaving. This includes efforts to improve the fairness of the transition from lower to upper secondary high schools for students, with an indicator measuring the share of students who gain access to one of their first choices of high school.

Priority 2: Quality in education and training – focused on improving student achievement and student well-being. This includes reducing student repetition in upper secondary education and raising student achievement, with a target to increase the average year-end marks in classroom assessments in all subjects for students in Grades 5 to 12 to 80% by 2019. In 2014, the highest average year-end marks ranged from (60%) in Grade 9 to 78% in Grade 12.

Priority 3: Improving institutional capacity – focused on improving human, financial, physical infrastructure and technology to strengthen institutional capacity to support improvements in education systems. This includes targets to reduce the number of students per teacher to 15 by 2019 and increase the qualifications and professional development of ministry staff.

Source: MoNE (2015[12]), National Strategic Plan 2015-2019, Ministry of National Education, Ankara.

Provincial and District Education Directorates are responsible for implementing national policy

The MoNE manages the school system through 81 Provincial Directorates and 921 Districts Directorates across the country (see Figure 1.1). Personnel in the directorates are directly appointed and managed by the ministry or by the provincial directorate itself, except for the Provincial and District Education Directors, who are supervised by Provincial and District Governors under the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Provincial education directorates use the ministry’s national strategic plan to develop their own annual strategic plans and set targets for their schools. Provincial responsibilities include monitoring schools’ compliance with education policies, appointing teachers to schools on the basis of national allocations, providing in-service training to school staff and monitoring schools’ progress in implementing their development plans (OECD, 2013[13]). District Directorates are responsible for executing the provincial directorate’s directions and delivering support to local schools.

The ministry is trying to develop the capacity of provincial directorates so that they can manage their school networks more effectively and assume a more proactive role in school improvement. For example, to develop the capacity for evidence-based planning and monitoring, the ministry plans to introduce provincial assessment and evaluation centres. At the time of the OECD review, centres had been established in 26 provinces across the country, and by mid-2019 this number had increased to 81. Operating under the guidance of the General Directorate of Measurement, Evaluation and Examination Services (MEES), the centres are affiliated to the Provincial Education Directorates with the goal of helping the latter make fuller use of assessment and examination data to monitor school performance. The centres also help provide assessment guidance to schools and in-service training to teachers. This is an important initiative, which, if adequately resourced, has the potential to benefit all provinces.

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Figure 1.1. Student Assessment Governance in Turkey
Bodies related to the governance of student assessment
Figure 1.1. Student Assessment Governance in Turkey

Note: This figure does not provide a comprehensive vision of education governance in Turkey, rather it provides a snapshot of the government units and sub-units related to student assessment. Please check the MoNE Organisational Chart (hyperlink below) for a full overview of the MoNE and its sub-units.

Source: Authors based on MoNE (2017[8]), Country Background Report - Turkey, Ministry of National Education, Ankara; and MoNE (n.d.[14])Organisation Chart [Teşkilat Şeması] (accessed 18 January 2019).

Schools in Turkey report that they have little autonomy

Schools in Turkey report among the lowest levels of autonomy in determining curriculum and assessment policies among countries participating in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Figure 1.2). One possible explanation is that school actors underestimate the level of flexibility they have in defining teaching and learning practices. For example, while national regulations define the number of classroom assessments and their formats, the regulations leave considerable flexibility for teachers to define the content and write the items (see Chapter 4).

Schools have less autonomy for managing human and financial resources than in most other OECD countries (OECD, 2016[15]). For example, schools have limited flexibility in how they use public funds and few responsibilities in teacher selection and career management. However, schools can use the funds raised locally by their school-parent associations, mainly from parents and local businesses, to support their own priorities and initiatives (World Bank, 2013[16]).

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Figure 1.2. Share of responsibility for school governance held by schools, local authorities and national authorities
Results based on school principals' reports in PISA 2015
Figure 1.2. Share of responsibility for school governance held by schools, local authorities and national authorities

Note: Countries are ranked in descending order of share of responsibility held at the school level. School level responsibility is defined as the sum of responsibility of teachers, school principals and the school board in PISA 2015, Table II.4.2; figures include a selection of OECD countries.

Source: OECD (2016[17]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,


Public expenditure has increased rapidly over the past decade

Since 2010, Turkey has significantly increased public expenditure on school education (Figure 1.3). Expenditure per student in primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education increased by 30% between 2010 and 2014, by far the largest increase among OECD countries (OECD, 2017[9]). This increase was driven in large part by the need to expand the number of classrooms and schools to accommodate a still-growing school-age population in primary education alongside rising demand for access to upper secondary (ERI, 2016[18]).

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Figure 1.3. Change in public expenditure on primary and secondary institutions between 2010 and 2014
Figure 1.3. Change in public expenditure on primary and secondary institutions between 2010 and 2014

Note: Countries are ranked in descending order of change in public expenditure.

Source: OECD (2017[9]), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,

Despite this impressive increase in investment, Turkey continues to have the second lowest level of expenditure per student in absolute terms across OECD countries, second only to Mexico. Turkey spent USD 3 589 in purchasing power parity (PPP) to GDP per primary student and USD PPP 3 258 per student in secondary education for the most recent year (2014) where comparable data is available, almost three times below the OECD average (OECD, 2017[9]). As a share of GDP, Turkey invests less in education (4% in 2014) than other upper middle incomes countries1 (5% on average in 2014) (OECD, 2017[9]; UIS, 2017[19]). While greater investment on its own is not sufficient to improve outcomes, expenditure in Turkey is at a level where an increase in funding could, with the right policies, yield significant gains. PISA 2015 shows that for countries like Turkey that invest less than USD PPP 50 000 cumulatively per student between the age of 6 and 15, an increase of USD PPP 10 000 is correlated with an increase in 26 points in the country’s average science score, equivalent to over half a school year (OECD, 2016[17]).

Central government is the main source of public expenditure on education

Almost all public funding for education in Turkey (98% in 2014) comes from the central government compared to around half (55%) on average in the OECD (OECD, 2017[9]). While the country’s local self-governing authorities – Special Provincial Administrations and locally-elected provincial metropolitan municipalities – are expected to allocate 20% of their local budget to education, local spending on education represented only about 2% of education expenditure in 2014 (OECD, 2017[9]).

Turkey has the highest level of private spending on schools within the OECD

Schools rely heavily on private funds to cover their current expenditures, which can represent up to 40% of a public school’s budget (World Bank, 2013[16]). Most of these private funds come from households, which accounted for 14% of total expenditure on schools in Turkey in 2014, the second highest share among OECD countries and more than twice the OECD average (see Figure 1.4). Secondary public schools are also allowed to fundraise from private entities such as firms and foundations and the private sector receives incentives to invest in schools through tax deduction programmes such as the “100% Support to Education Campaign” started in 2003 (OECD, 2013[13]).

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Figure 1.4. Share of public and private expenditure on educational institutions, 2014
Primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary
Figure 1.4. Share of public and private expenditure on educational institutions, 2014

Note: Countries are ranked in descending order of share of public expenditure on educational institutions.

Source: OECD (2017[9]), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,

A new school funding formula aims to increase transparency and efficiency Turkey has introduced a school funding formula in an attempt to increase transparency and efficiency in school funding and address more effectively the needs of different schools. The formula allocates resources to schools based on the number of personnel and students, school type and infrastructure (MoNE, 2017[8]). While the use of such indicators represents an improvement over the previous incremental budgeting model, the current formula does not take into account socio-economic context or performance-based indicators, such as student drop-out or results in national exams, which are important to ensure disadvantaged schools receive adequate support (OECD, 2017[20]). The lack of redistribution in the funding formula does not appear to be compensated by additional initiatives targeting poor schools. While Turkey has a conditional cash transfer programme to promote access to education for students from low-income families, other pro-poor funding schemes such as grants to disadvantaged schools remain relatively underdeveloped (UNICEF, 2012[21]; Köseleci, 2015[22]).

Reliance on private funds exacerbates disparities in funding as schools in wealthier areas have access to additional resources that are not available to those in less advantaged communities. Data from PISA reveals that Turkey has one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor schools in terms of access to material and human resources among OECD countries (OECD, 2016[15]).

The structure of Turkey’s school system

Education is now compulsory until the end of upper secondary school

In 2012, Turkey increased compulsory schooling from 8 to 12 years with the goal of expanding participation in upper secondary education. The school starting age was also lowered from 6 to 5.5 years. As part of this reform, the education system was restructured to create lower secondary institutions (ISCED 2) distinct from primary schools (ISCED 1). Previously primary and lower secondary education had taken place in the same institutions as part of an uninterrupted “basic education” cycle. This new structure of schooling is called the “4+4+4 model”, reflecting the equal length of the three levels of compulsory education (Köseleci, 2015[22]). It results in earlier transitions for students than in most OECD countries, where students tend to stay in their primary institution for longer and start upper secondary education later.

Students are tracked early into upper secondary schools

As in many OECD countries, students entering upper secondary school in Turkey can choose between different education programmes. However, the nature of this differentiation is distinct in several ways. First, students in Turkey choose their upper secondary school in Grade 8 at the age of 13, which is earlier than most OECD countries, where the most common age of selection is 15 (OECD, 2016[17]). In 2010, Turkey introduced a common curriculum in all schools during the first two years of upper secondary education (Grades 9 and 10) in an attempt to facilitate student transition between schools and reduce the stakes of the choice students make at age 13 for their future career pathway. However, in reality, very few students change schools because of the shortage of places and higher entry requirements. The new placement system for high school introduced in 2018 aims to provide students with greater flexibility to move high schools and programmes, within their local area (see Chapter 4).

A second distinguishing feature is the number of school types and programmes. While the main choice in most OECD countries with differentiated secondary pathways is between vocational and general programmes, students in Turkey have the option of seven different high-school types (Table 1.2). The perceived quality of these schools varies considerably, with the Science and Social Science High Schools being regarded as the most prestigious. With selection into upper secondary education based until recently primarily on results in a national standardised examination, the multiplicity of school types has contributed to high levels of disparity in educational access by background and ability. For example, students in Science and Social Science High Schools performed more than 90 points higher than the national average in all subjects in PISA 2015 (equivalent to 2 extra years of schooling), and over 100 points higher than students in Anatolian Vocational and Technical high schools (see Table 1.2 and Figure 1.15). This unsurprisingly translates into unequal rates of transition into tertiary programmes (see Table 1.2).

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Figure 1.5. The Turkish education system
Figure 1.5. The Turkish education system

Source: Authors based on OECD (2016[23])Diagram of the Education System: Turkey

The ministry has sought to address these inequalities through a series of consolidation attempts, most notably by bringing most general high schools under the umbrella of “Anatolian High schools” (Kamal, 2017[24]; Clark, 2014[25]). The Tenth Turkish Development Plan includes the goals of reducing further the number of school types and enabling more flexible transition between programmes, in an attempt to achieve more equal standards of quality and relieve the pressure on students (Ministry of Development, 2014[7]). Changes to the student selection system are also intended to support these aims.

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Table 1.2. Public secondary schools in Turkey, school year 2016/17

Type of secondary school

Number of schools*

Percentage of total enrolment*

Admission rate (%) into bachelor’s programmes1

Average score in numeracy (PISA 2015)2

Anatolian High School

2 412




Science High School





Social Sciences High School





Anatolian Fine Arts High School





Multi Programme Anatolian High School





Anatolian Imam and Preacher High School

1 408




Anatolian Vocational and Technical High School

2 384




Sources: 1. MoNE (2017[26]), Millî Eğitim İstatistikleri [National Education Statistics, Formal Education2016/2017],;

2. OECD (2016[15]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education,

The process of student selection into upper secondary education is under revision

At the time of the OECD review team’s visit, student high school selection was based on a centralised placement system called the Transition from Elementary Schools to Secondary Schools Exam ‒ Temel Eğitimden Ortaöğretime Geçiş Sistemi (TEOG) introduced in the 2013/14 academic year. As part of TEOG, students ranked their upper secondary school preferences. They were then placed in one of their school choices based on their results in a centralised examination and their average score in lower secondary classroom assessments. The Turkish TEOG relied predominantly on the centralised examination to determine student placement, with the exam results accounting for 70% of the final placement score, while classroom assessment accounted for 30%.

While the TEOG was considered fair and transparent, it also created a high level of competition between students for school places. In response to these criticisms, the government abolished the TEOG exam in September 2017 and announced a new system of placement based on catchment areas, students’ interests and overall achievement in lower secondary. The aim of this policy is to eliminate competition for high school placement, but the most elite schools, the science and social science high schools (as well as some programmes in high demand at technical and vocational schools) will continue to have a selection exam.

Placement into tertiary education is exam-based and highly competitive

A national two-stage placement system determines access to tertiary education and places students into the different programmes. The first stage is the Basic Proficiency Test ‒ Temel Yeterlilik Testi (TYT) previously known as the Transition to Tertiary Education Examination ‒ Yükseköğretime Geçiş Sınavı (YGS), a multiple-choice assessment of core subjects such as Turkish, social sciences, mathematics and science. Passing the TYT is sufficient to access short-cycle tertiary programmes (ISCED 5) where most students are enrolled. To access bachelor’s programmes (ISCED 6), students need to take an additional test called the Field Qualification Test ‒ Alan Yeterlilik Testleri (AYT), previously known as the Undergraduate Placement Exam ‒ Lisans Yerleştirme Sınavı (LYS), in subjects relevant to their desired field of study. Students’ preferences and results in the TYT, AYT and their average classroom marks during upper secondary are used to determine their placement in bachelor’s programmes through a centralised system that automatically assigns applicants to study programmes. The threshold to access most programmes is determined based on demand but the most selective programmes such as medicine, law and engineering have a minimum pre-set threshold. Turkey does not use a national examination to certify completion of upper secondary education. Instead, certification of upper secondary (i.e. receipt of the school leaving diploma) is based solely on students’ average score in classroom assessments in Grades 9 to 12.

The selection exams carry very high stakes for students

With limited places available in the most prestigious upper secondary schools and bachelor’s programmes, the placement exams are very competitive, creating a high level of stress among students. PISA 2015 shows that Turkish students report higher levels of test-induced anxiety than their peers in other OECD countries. More than one-fifth of Turkish students aged 15 agreed strongly with the statement “I often worry that it will be difficult for me taking the test” compared to 15% on average across OECD countries (OECD, 2017[27]). The pressure is even higher during examination years, with all stakeholder groups interviewed by the OECD review team highlighting the acute pressure faced by students at transition points to be one of the most significant challenges facing the education system.

Research internationally indicates that while high stakes examinations might incentivise some students to apply themselves, they can have a negative impact on the motivation and learning of students who perform less well academically (OECD, 2013[28]). In Turkey, the pressure of high stakes-exams is associated with the disengagement and early drop-out of students with anticipated low results, as their chances of getting a place in their desired programme of study are slim (World Bank, 2013[16]). The high pressure of examinations also contributes to an excessive focus on examination preparation, which reduces time for learning (see Chapter 4). The extent to which the examinations were narrowing the curriculum taught in schools was a concern highlighted in many of the review team’s interviews.

Parents also spend a significant amount of money on private tutoring so that students can attend the most desirable schools and bachelor’s programmes. In 2015, Turkey had 3 800 private tutoring or cram schools known as dershanes that prepared students for the tertiary selection exam. These hidden costs have an impact on equity, with research in Turkey suggesting that only those households that can afford the very best tutoring services see any gain in examination results (World Bank, 2011[29]). Out-of-school tutoring also has a negative impact on student well-being as students spend long hours cramming for examinations and have little time for extra-curricular activities. In 2015, Turkish students spent on average 24.5 hours per week after school study (Figure 1.6), mostly in cram schools or individual tutoring sessions. This is the highest number of hours among all OECD countries participating in PISA 2015 (OECD, 2016[17]).

The Turkish government has made efforts to reduce examination pressure and address its negative impacts, including most recently with the decision to end selection for most upper secondary schools. The government also sought to close the dershanes in 2015.

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Figure 1.6. Time spent in after-school study by subject
Number of hours reported by students in PISA 2015
Figure 1.6. Time spent in after-school study by subject

Note: Countries listed in this graph are upper middle-income countries participating in PISA. Countries are ranked in descending order of total number of hours spent in after-school study.

Source: OECD (2016[17]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,

Secondary vocational education and training has expanded

Turkey has sought, with success, to increase student enrolment in upper secondary vocational education and training (VET) programmes. In 2016, almost half of upper secondary students (49%) were enrolled in vocational programmes, higher than the OECD average of 41% and an increase of 22% compared to 2013 (OECD, 2017[9]). The budget allocated to VET on a per student basis has also nearly doubled in the last six years (MoNE, 2018[30]). Upper secondary VET programmes comprise of four-year programmes at the end of which students receive a Vocational and Technical High School Diploma. VET students can access tertiary education or the labour market by taking exams at the end of their studies. Students are taught all core subjects covered by the TYT from Grades 9 to 10 in order to prepare them to take this exam and make sure that they acquire the basics standards of mathematics, Turkish and science. In some specialist areas, such as computer hardware, students can also apply to take an additional exam in order to receive a Vocational Qualification Certificate. The exams are developed with representatives of the employers’ federations and certificates are now aligned with the Turkish Qualifications Framework and the European Qualifications Framework, enhancing their value in the labour market (MYK, 2015[31]). While formally possible until the end of Grade 10, a transfer from vocational to general programmes is in reality very rare. Outside the formal school system, two to three-year apprenticeship programmes are offered to students who drop-out before completing compulsory education (OECD, 2013[13]).

While Turkey has some well-established VET schools that are attractive for students and are valued by employers, overall vocational and technical high schools are perceived to be less desirable and of poorer quality than general secondary schools. Fifteen-year-old students in VET schools performed below the national average in all subjects tested by PISA 2015 (Table 1.2). In response, improving the quality of VET schools is given high priority in the Tenth Development Plan and the 2023 Education Vision proposes significant reforms, including on how to improve society’s perception of the sector and support students’ academic success (Özer, 2019[32]). Quality assurance has already been enhanced, with the General Directorate of Vocational and Technical Education undertaking a wide-ranging review of all secondary education institutions in 2018, with the results made public (MoNE, 2018[33]). This and other analysis has resulted in new policies with a focus on strengthening cooperation with the private sector, enriching on-the-job training and facilitating the transition to employment for graduates of VET high schools (Özer, 2018[34]).

Turkey has encouraged an increase in the number of private schools

With the public sector struggling to keep up with growing demand for schooling, the government has chosen to encourage the expansion of private schools. The share of private schools increased from less than 4% of total schools in 2001 to 13% in 2016 (ERI, 2016[18]). In the late 2000s, the government introduced a voucher programme to help students from low socio-economic backgrounds access private schools. However, the programme does not appear to have reduced inequality of access and tuition fees remain a major barrier to entry for most students (ERI, 2016[18]). No students from the bottom, second or third socio-economic quartiles participating in the PISA 2015 survey were enrolled in private schools, compared to 12.5% from the top quartile (OECD, 2016[17]). Despite their relatively high cost, learning outcomes as measured by PISA are on average significantly lower in private schools (86 points or the equivalent of two school years) than in public schools (OECD, 2016[15]).

Almost one-quarter of students attend open education high schools

A significant proportion (23% in 2017) of upper secondary students in Turkey follow distance learning programmes called open high schools (MoNE, 2017[8]). These programmes offer early school leavers or students who have been unwell for long periods of time the opportunity to complete their compulsory education. It was also reported to the OECD team that some students choose to enrol in open high schools to take advantage of their flexible schedule to have more time to cram for the tertiary selection and placement examinations.

Double-shift schools and large class sizes are common in urban areas

The average class size in Turkey has decreased in recent years but is still one of the largest in the OECD (ERI, 2016[18]; OECD, 2017[9]). Primary class sizes are now similar to those of other OECD countries (23 students in 2015 compared to 21), but Turkey continues to have the largest class size in lower secondary of all OECD countries (34 students compared to 23 in 2015). However, these national averages hide large disparities between schools. Turkey has the largest difference in class size between public and private schools among OECD countries: at the lower-secondary level, public schools had an average of 35 students per classroom while private schools average 20 students per classroom (OECD, 2017[9]). There are also significant geographical disparities: classes in some urban centres are overcrowded while some in rural areas are very small. Across the country, classes can range in size from an average of just 16 students in the East Black Sea region to 30 students in Istanbul at the primary level, with reports that some classes are much larger still (ERI, 2016[18]).

The large and varying class sizes in Turkey are the result of a number of factors, including the sizeable and growing student population, the migration of families from rural to urban areas, a centralised teacher deployment process which may create less flexibility to address local needs, and a lack of public funds to increase the number of classes (OECD, 2013[13]; OECD, 2017[27]). In the past, to respond to the shortage of classrooms in some areas, the government created double-shift schools that serve one group of students in the morning and another in the afternoon. A significant proportion of students, in particular in densely populated areas such as Istanbul and Southeast Anatolia, are enrolled in these institutions. In 2015, half of the students in primary, 41% in lower secondary and 10% in upper secondary were enrolled in double-shift schools (ERI, 2016[5]). This method of education delivery can involve early starts, long instruction hours and a lack of breaks, which can be challenging for both teachers and students (Celik and Gür, 2013[10]). To address these concerns, the government of Turkey has committed to ending this practice by 2019 (ERI, 2016[5]).

Turkey has made significant efforts to educate refugee children from Syria

Since 2011, a large number of Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, putting the education sector and other public services under severe pressure. In 2017, 3.4 million registered Syrian refugees were living in the country; about half were below the age of 18 while 30% were below the age of 11 (UNHCR, 2017[35]). Turkey has created learning centres in areas where refugees are settled, which provide educational materials in both Turkish and Arabic and training to Turkish teachers on how to help integrate refugees into the formal education system. As a consequence of these efforts and the government’s continued collaboration with United Nations agencies, the enrolment rate of Syrian refugees in primary and secondary education is almost universal (UNHCR, 2017[35]). However, these activities have placed considerable strain on the already under-resourced education system. In 2015, the Turkish government spent $252 million on the education of Syrian refugees, which represented roughly 2% of the ministry’s budget for the same year (ERI, 2016[18]; HRW, 2015[36]).

Teachers and school principals

Turkey has more than doubled its teaching workforce in the last two decades while at the same time raising qualification standards. However, there are some notable policy gaps, including quality assurance in initial teacher education, and professional development opportunities. To respond to these challenges, Turkey has developed a new Teacher Strategy (2017-23) with the goal of transforming teacher education and training and moving towards a performance-based career structure.

Turkey’s large teaching population is young and gender balanced

The expansion of education access in Turkey and a still-growing school-age population has led to a dramatic increase in the teaching workforce, which today numbers around 968 000 people (MoNE, 2017[8]). This has resulted in a teaching population that is relatively young compared to most other OECD countries. In 2014, Turkey had the smallest percentage of teachers over the age of 50 among OECD countries (13% in primary, 8% and 11% in lower and upper secondary respectively). This is less than half of the OECD average for the same levels of education. With respect to gender distribution, Turkey’s teaching population is more balanced than in most other OECD countries where women tend to outnumber men, especially at the primary level (OECD, 2016[37]). Turkey is, however, experiencing a gradual feminisation of the teaching workforce, in particular in upper secondary education, where the number of female teachers increased by almost 50% between 2012 and 2017 compared to 35% for men (MoNE, 2017[8]).

Teaching is financially attractive, though the salary scale is relatively flat

Teachers in Turkey are career civil servants, with guaranteed lifetime employment (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015[38]). The social benefits and job security associated with such a position are among the main factors reportedly attracting young people into teaching, in a country where formal employment opportunities remain relatively limited (MoNE, 2017[8]). Teaching in Turkey is also a financially attractive option for a Turkish tertiary graduate. In contrast to most OECD countries, average statutory salaries for teachers with 15 years of experience are higher than those of other full-time tertiary-educated workers (OECD, 2017[9]). In 2015, primary teachers earned 14% more, and lower and upper secondary teachers earned 17% more than the average tertiary-educated worker (OECD, 2017[9]). On average across the OECD, teachers earned 4% to 10% less than tertiary-educated workers (OECD, 2017[9]). Salaries are also rising. Between 2005 and 2015, teachers’ statutory salary grew by 21% at the lower and upper secondary levels, which was much higher than the average increase of 4% respectively across OECD countries (OECD, 2017[9]).

However, Turkey has the flattest teacher salary scale within the OECD. The statutory salary increases by only 8% after 15 years in the profession and is only 17% higher at the top of the salary scale compared to the starting salary. On average across OECD countries, teachers’ statutory salaries increase by 37% after 15 years and by 68% at the top of the scale (OECD, 2017[9]). One factor associated with the lack of salary growth is the absence of a performance-based, differentiated career structure that would enable teachers to be awarded roles with increasing responsibilities (see Chapter 5).

Teaching certification requirements have increased and there are plans to include more practical training in initial teacher education

All teachers in Turkey are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree (ISCED 6). Data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) shows that in 2015 the overwhelming majority of teachers in primary and lower secondary education had attained this level of qualification (86% in Grade 4 and 90% in Grade 8) (Mullis, Martin and Foy, 2003[39]). However, the percentage of teachers with a master’s degree (ISCED 7) is relatively low (3% in primary and lower secondary) and, unlike the majority of OECD countries, a master’s degree is not a requirement for teachers in lower and upper secondary (OECD, 2016[17]).

There are two main routes into the teaching profession in Turkey: a four-year programme leading to a bachelor’s of education degree (concurrent); or a one-year teaching programme that teachers can take upon completion of a regular bachelor’s degree (consecutive) (World Bank, 2011[29]). While this model is similar in structure to that of most European countries, the amount of practical training that teacher candidates receive is on average lower in Turkey (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015[38]). Entry into faculties of education is based on a student’s score in the national university placement exams. Although less common now than in the past, it is still possible for university graduates who have not trained to become teachers to be recruited to work in schools in the rural and eastern parts of the country (Celik and Gür, 2013[10]).

Information on the quality of initial teacher education programmes is limited. However, studies have raised concerns over the lack of alignment between programme content and the ministry’s education policies, in particular, the school curricula (World Bank, 2011[29]). For example, teachers participating in a recent study on assessment practices reported that the training on assessment was too theoretical and did not address adequately classroom realities or stated policy priorities such as making better use of formative methods (Kan, 2017[40]). Governance arrangements contribute to these alignment challenges in Turkey. Responsibility for determining initial teacher training programmes falls the under the Council of Higher Education (Yükseköğretim Kurulu Başkanlığı, YÖK), which is independent of the ministry, and there is currently no formal process in operation for accrediting teacher education programmes (EPDAD, 2016[41]).

As part of its new Teacher Strategy 2017-23, Turkey aims to restructure initial teacher training provided by universities by introducing more practical training in schools where trainees will be supervised by a certified teacher. The strategy also includes plans to introduce standards for initial teacher training to ensure greater consistency in the quality of training across providers (MoNE, 2015[12]).

New teachers are assigned to their first positions, generally in challenging regions, based on their ranking in the teaching entrance exams

Teachers are deployed to provinces based on their interests and their results on two teaching entrance exams: the Public Service Personnel Selection Examination (Kamu Personel Seçme Sınavı, KPSS), a 50-question assessment of educational science knowledge and general aptitude; and the Teacher Content Knowledge Exam (Öğretmenlik Alan Bilgisi Testi, ÖABT), which tests teachers’ subject-specific knowledge (MoNE, date). In order for an individual to be to apply for a teaching position, they need to achieve a minimum score of 50 points on the KPSS.

Most new teachers are first assigned to rural, disadvantaged parts of the country, notably the eastern provinces (ERI, 2016[18]). In the past, they received little or no additional initial or in-service preparation for working in such challenging contexts and these provinces experience high rates of teacher turnover (ERI, 2016[18]). Partially to address some of these issues, in 2015 Turkey introduced a new probation and induction programme to provide additional support to new teachers and help them adapt to the realities of the classroom (see Chapter 5).

Turkey has introduced an ambitious Teacher Strategy to improve teaching quality

Turkey’s new Teacher Strategy 2017-23 recognises the need to improve the quality of initial teacher training, decrease disparities between regions by improving working conditions and develop a more progressive career development path. Above all, the strategy aims to raise the competencies of the existing workforce by improving teachers’ professional development. Currently, the provision of professional development is managed directly at the central level by the ministry and the provincial directorates. Professional development is free of charge but is organised away from the school and is not linked to career progression. While some training courses are mandatory, teachers in Turkey undertake professional development far less than their counterparts in other OECD countries. Less than a quarter of science teachers from schools participating in PISA had attended a professional development programme in the three months leading to the PISA 2015 test, half the OECD average rate (OECD, 2016[17]). To improve professional development and make sure that it responds better to teachers’ needs, the Teacher Strategy plans to introduce a new School-Based Professional Development Model which will use teachers’ self-evaluations to develop an individual professional development plan. The content of professional development will also be informed by a newly revised and simplified Teacher Competencies Framework (MoNE, 2017[42]).


The intended curriculum is competency-based and student-focused

As in many OECD countries, recent curriculum reforms in Turkey have sought to shift the focus of learning from the acquisition of theoretical, content knowledge towards a competency-based approach that challenges learners to apply what they know and can do in real-world contexts. Reforms have also placed a strong emphasis on the active role that students should play in the learning process, in contrast to established practices that were teacher-centred and focused heavily on rote memorisation. These new approaches were first introduced in 2005, in a landmark reform that resulted in the complete redevelopment of teaching and learning materials in primary and secondary schools (Köseleci, 2015[22]). Since then, there have been frequent updates and modifications to the curriculum. The most recent revisions were introduced in 2017, with a focus on reducing curriculum overload, elevating the importance of 21st century competencies such as critical thinking, creativity and communication, and enhancing the relevance of the school curriculum to the labour market (see Chapter 2).

Full implementation of the curriculum requires further support

Independent studies have shown that the changes introduced since 2005 represent an improvement over the curriculum used in the past (World Bank, 2013[16]). They place emphasis on the learning outcomes that are most important for individual success and economic development and value the types of individualised teaching approaches and active student engagement that research indicates are important for effective learning (Dumont, Istance and Benavides, 2010[43]). However, successive curriculum changes have also created concerns about fragmentation and incoherence in the overall vision for student learning in Turkey (see Chapter 2).

The 2005 reforms were accompanied by new teacher guidebooks and changes to teachers’ in-service and induction programmes. Subsequent changes have likewise been followed by training and dissemination efforts. However, many teachers remain reliant on multiple-choice items and do not feel confident using the types of formative and performance-based assessment methods that the curriculum requires (Kan, 2017[40]). Teachers met by the OECD review team also reported some level of fatigue with the rapid rhythm of curriculum reforms that are not followed up by enough with guidance.

The evaluation and assessment system

Major changes are underway to evaluation and assessment policies in Turkey

Improving the effectiveness of evaluation and assessment policies is a key priority for Turkey. At the time of this review, significant changes were either underway or being planned in the areas of student assessment, teacher appraisal, school inspection and system evaluation. This includes: a new national assessment of student learning, (Akademik Becerilerin İzlenmesi ve Değerlendirilmesi, ABİDE), as well as the Student Learning Achievement Monitoring Assessment, the Turkish Language Skills Study and the Common Examinations initiative2; the introduction of a performance-based career structure for teachers; and a new school evaluation system (although the new systems for teacher appraisal and school evaluation had not been decided at the time of the OECD review). These reforms reflect the growing emphasis that the Turkish government is placing on the effectiveness of education and other public services, and the consequent need for stronger levers to influence performance.

The Ministry of National Education collects considerable information on system performance for monitoring and control purposes The share of schools in Turkey that report that administrative data is systematically recorded, like the students attending school and teachers being present for the classes that they teach (77%) and student test results and graduation rates (89%), is the highest among OECD countries (OECD, 2016[17]) . Such extensive data collection has enabled important innovations, such as the e-School Management Information System which enables parents to receive real-time information on their mobile phone on their child’s attendance and grades (UNICEF, 2012[21]). Greater use could be made of this data for evaluative and learning purposes, like providing schools with more information on their examination results to explain disparities in performance or common errors in student understanding (see Chapters 4 and 5). The ministry’s projects like the establishment of the new measurement and evaluation centres in the country’s provinces and the project to strengthen teachers’ capacity for classroom assessment reflect efforts to improve monitoring and evaluation practices to support learning.

copy the linklink copied!Main trends in participation, outcomes and equity

Turkey is one of the few emerging economies to have realised a rapid expansion in education access while at the same time improving learning outcomes and reducing inequity. This impressive achievement was the result of the large-scale reforms that Turkey implemented in the late 1990s and 2000s. An overview of current system performance shows that this reform drive needs to continue, with a sharpened focus on achieving more equal standards in schooling and improving the quality of teaching practices.


Access to education has increased dramatically

Over the past two decades, Turkey has achieved one of the fastest increases in education enrolment within the OECD. Participation in primary and lower secondary school had caught up with the OECD average by 2010 and became universal by 2015, gains all the more remarkable given the need to absorb a still growing school-age population. The most rapid increase was observed for the age cohort 15 to 19 (upper secondary students), with enrolment rates increasing by 70% between 2005 and 2015 (see Figure 1.7). While upper secondary enrolment is still one of the lowest among OECD countries (78% compared to 83% in 2015), it is relatively high compared to other high middle-income countries (60%) (UIS, 2017[19]).

This sharp increase in enrolment was the result of proactive policies to expand supply, tackle the main obstacles to access, and improve efficiencies in the school system. Alongside a massive investment in school and classroom construction, important initiatives in Turkey have included the introduction in the early 2000s of an electronic system to manage student flow and the launch of cash transfers programmes and awareness campaigns to increase the participation of girls and socio-economically disadvantaged groups (Sasmaz, 2015[44]).

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Figure 1.7. Enrolment rate by age group, 2005-15
Figure 1.7. Enrolment rate by age group, 2005-15

Source: Authors’ calculations based on OECD (2018[2]), OECD Statistics, (accessed on 20 February 2018).

But many students still do not complete a full cycle of schooling

Despite being compulsory, a relatively high share of students do not complete upper secondary school. In 2015, a fifth of students had already left the school system before age 17 (see Figure 1.8). Drop-out starts to become a problem in Turkey at the transition between lower and upper secondary education (14-year-olds) when students are tracked into the different types of schools and programmes. An in-depth study by UNICEF of out-of-school children in Turkey has identified that low levels of learning in the early years and limited in-school support to students at risk of falling behind are among the main factors contributing to drop-out (UNICEF, 2012[21]).

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Figure 1.8. Enrolment rate by age and level of education, 2015
Figure 1.8. Enrolment rate by age and level of education, 2015

Source: Authors’ calculations based on OECD (2018[2]), OECD Statistics, (accessed on 20 February 2018).

A fifth of 3- to 4-year-olds attended early childhood education in 2015

One in five children aged 3 to 4 attended an early childhood education programme in 2015 in Turkey, compared to 72% on average across OECD countries (Figure 1.8). The average length of early childhood education and care (ECEC) is also the lowest among OECD countries. A Turkish student attended on average only one year of pre-primary education compared to three years on average in OECD countries. The length of pre-primary education varies greatly depending on students’ socio-economic background. Students from the top income quartile start pre-primary on average half a year earlier than those in the bottom quintile (OECD, 2016[17]). Sustained access to high-quality education can yield significant gains later in learning. Across the OECD, on average, students score four points higher in science for every additional year they spend in pre-primary education (OECD, 2016[17]).

Turkey has made improving access to early childhood education a priority. The country’s 2018-20 medium-term plan commits to expanding the coverage of pre-school education, in particular among five-year-olds (Ministry of Public Works and Development, 2017[45]). Meeting this target is likely to require a significant increase in spending. Currently, only about 1% of total education expenditure is allocated to early childhood and Turkey has the second lowest per GDP spending on this level among OECD countries, despite having a much larger population of pre-school age (OECD, 2017[9]; ERI, 2016[18]).

Participation in tertiary education has expanded

Turkey has seen the fastest increase in tertiary graduation rates among OECD countries, with the share of young people having attained this level rising three-fold since 2000 (OECD, 2017[9]). The tertiary enrolment rate among 19-year-olds is now at the level of the OECD average (38% in 2016) and higher than in other upper middle-income countries such as Mexico (24%). This expansion was mainly enabled by the development of distance learning programmes (open universities) and evening courses that provide short-cycle tertiary degrees (World Bank, 2007[46]). In 2016, almost half of students (45%) entering tertiary education enrolled in short-cycle tertiary programmes (ISCED 5), which is one of the highest shares among OECD countries. In comparison, the percentage of students entering a bachelor’s programme in Turkey is, at 55%, among the lowest and far below the OECD average of 72% (Figure 1.9).

Restricted access to bachelor’s programmes puts pressure on the school system and increases competition between students for the limited places available (see Chapter 4). It also represents a potential brake on economic growth, with more than half of employers reporting difficulties in hiring skilled workers (Manpower, 2015[47]). Positions in engineering are reportedly among the hardest to fill, with Turkey registering the lowest share of students entering a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programme among OECD countries (18% in 2015 compared to 27% on average in the OECD), (OECD, 2017[9]; Manpower, 2015[47]).

Drop-out is also a challenge in tertiary education in Turkey. This is particularly true in short-course programmes, where about a third of students are expected to drop out before completing their degree (OECD, 2017[9]). Among other factors, studies have signalled the weak basic skills of tertiary entrants as contributing to low completion rates, with many students in Turkey leaving high school with relatively low levels of literacy and numeracy and limited learning-to-learn skills (World Bank, 2007[46]). Data from the Survey of Adults Skills (a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, PIAAC) shows that the average proficiency of Turkish youth in core areas such as literacy is well below that of most other OECD countries, and that even those having completed tertiary have not, at least in the past, reached a level of full proficiency (Level 3, or a score of 276) (OECD, 2013[48]).

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Figure 1.9. Share of new entrants into tertiary by level of education
Figure 1.9. Share of new entrants into tertiary by level of education

Note: This figure refers to students entering tertiary education for the first time regardless of tertiary level. Countries are ranked in descending order of share of new entrants in short-cycle tertiary.

Source: OECD (2017[9]), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,

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Figure 1.10. Mean literacy proficiency by educational attainment among 20-24 year-olds (Survey of Adult Skills)
Figure 1.10. Mean literacy proficiency by educational attainment among 20-24 year-olds (Survey of Adult Skills)

Source: OECD (2016[6])Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills

Learning outcomes

Students’ learning outcomes have improved significantly over the past decade

Turkey is among the few countries that have improved student learning outcomes while expanding access to education. Turkish students’ performance in the PISA tests increased significantly between 2003 and 2012 (see Figure 1.11). This marked improvement across subject areas was primarily related to a decrease in the share of students performing below the PISA proficiency Level 2, which is the level at which students are considered to have mastered the basic skills3 required for further learning and full participation in society (Figure 1.12). In mathematics, the share of low performers decreased by 10 percentage points between 2003 and 2012, the second highest decrease among OECD countries after Mexico. Similar improvements are also observed in primary education as shown by the increase in the average mathematics and science performance in the TIMSS test for Grade 4 students (Mullis et al., 2016[49]).

Improvements in learning outcomes in Turkey are even more impressive when accounting for the country’s level of economic development and the rapid expansion of its student population. Turkey’s PISA 2015 average score in science is 30 points higher when accounting for GDP per capita (OECD, 2016[15]). Moreover, taking in account the rapid expansion of student enrolment between 2003 and 2012, the increase in student performance in PISA is twice as large in mathematics and five times greater in reading4 (Spaull, 2017[50]). However, Turkey experienced a steep decrease in its performance in PISA 2015 compared to previous editions of the survey, which is difficult to explain. Data from PISA 2018 and improved data on learning from national monitoring will be important to understand whether progress in learning outcomes has indeed stalled.

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Figure 1.11. Score distribution in the PISA science and mathematics tests, 2003-15
Figure 1.11. Score distribution in the PISA science and mathematics tests, 2003-15

Source: OECD (2016[15])PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education

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Figure 1.12. Percentage of low achievers and top performers in the PISA mathematics and science tests, 2003-15)
Figure 1.12. Percentage of low achievers and top performers in the PISA mathematics and science tests, 2003-15)

Source: OECD (2016[15])PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education

Average achievement remains low compared to OECD countries

While learning outcomes in Turkey compare favourably to other upper middle-income countries (Figure 1.13), they remain low compared to the OECD average and a long way from what is required to meet Turkey’s economic and educational objectives. Forty percent of students in Turkey do not demonstrate basic literacy by age 15 and more than half do not reach basic numeracy levels (below the PISA 2015 proficiency Level 2 in these two domains). This represents the second largest share of low performers among OECD member countries, after Mexico.

At the other end of the learning spectrum, less than 1% of Turkish students were “high achievers” in PISA 2015, performing above proficiency Level 5 in the mathematics test. This compares to 8% on average within the OECD (Figure 1.13). While the national curriculum places strong emphasis on higher-order competencies such as critical thinking, only a minority of students are demonstrating these abilities by the time they reach upper secondary school. PISA 2015 also assessed student’s abilities to solve collaboratively real-world problems. This included important competencies such as negotiating the meaning of a problem and understanding the roles needed to solve it. The performance of Turkish students was the furthest from average OECD levels of attainment in these areas (OECD, 2016[15]).

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Figure 1.13. Percentage of students at each proficiency level in reading in PISA 2015
Upper middle-income countries participating in PISA
Figure 1.13. Percentage of students at each proficiency level in reading in PISA 2015

Note: Countries are ranked in descending order of the share of students performing below Level 2.

Source: OECD (2016[15]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education,

More teachers are trying to use pedagogical practices associated with effective learning

Teachers and the quality of their teaching are the most important school-related factor in student learning outcomes. Data on the practices of teachers in Turkey is relatively limited. The information that exists suggests that recent years have seen some improvements. Issues that were very common a decade ago in Turkey, such as teacher absenteeism and arriving late, are no longer a problem according to principals surveyed by PISA (OECD, 2016[17]). Data from PISA also suggests that teachers in Turkey are seeking to use the types of pedagogical practices associated with effective learning, with students reporting that teachers provide regular feedback and adapt their teaching to students’ needs (OECD, 2016[17]). PISA also indicates that teachers are trying to encourage more enquiry-based learning, which is in line with the instructional goals of the curriculum. However, what information there is on the quality of these practices suggests that teachers could use new approaches more effectively. For example, recent research on teachers’ assessment literacy revealed gaps in fundamental areas, such as how to identify a student’s learning level and diagnose difficulties (Kan, 2017[40]).

Classroom disruption and students skipping school can hinder learning

A positive, supportive school environment is important for student learning. While bullying and the use of drugs and alcohol are relatively rare in Turkish schools compared to some OECD countries, other factors such as student absenteeism and classroom disruptions are more common and likely to have a negative impact on learning (OECD, 2016[17]). Almost half (45%) of students participating in PISA 2015 have reported skipping a whole day of school in the two weeks before the test which is more than twice the OECD average (20%). PISA shows that absenteeism in Turkey has both a negative impact on the student’s own learning performance but also on that of his or her peers (OECD, 2016[17]). Unlike most OECD countries, absenteeism in Turkey is significantly more common in socio-economically advantaged schools than disadvantaged schools, a difference that might be explained have been explained in the past by students skipping school to attend tutoring classes to prepare for exams (OECD, 2016[17]). Classroom disruptions by students such as noise and disorder in class and students not listening to their teachers are also more common in Turkey than in most countries participating in PISA 2015 (OECD, 2016[17]).

After-school study support is limited

Turkish schools provide students with limited study help outside of classroom instruction time. Half of Turkish students (49%) go to schools that are not equipped with rooms dedicated for homework and the majority (63%) are in schools that do not provide staff to help with homework (OECD, 2016[17]). Such resources are particularly important for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and families with low levels of parental education. In most OECD countries such supports are made widely available. Recently, Turkey has taken steps to expand additional support and learning opportunities for students who are struggling. Efforts include the support and catch-up classes introduced in 2017-18 in lower secondary schools and a joint MoNE-UNICEF initiative piloted 2017, the Remedial Education Programme (İYEP). The İYEP aims to support students from Grades 3 and 4 with major gaps in key literacy and numeracy competencies, by providing additional support from classroom teachers and school counsellors.


Equity in learning outcomes is improving

Equity in learning outcomes in Turkey has improved over the past decade. A student’s socio-economic background was, for instance, a weaker predictor of his/her score in PISA 2015 than it was in PISA 2006. While 16% of variation in students’ science performance could be explained by their socio-economic background in PISA 2006, this prediction power decreased to 9% in PISA 2015 (OECD, 2016[15]). Turkey has also relatively more equitable learning outcomes compared to the OECD average and to other upper middle-income countries participating in PISA 2015 (see Figure 1.14). However, the most advantaged students in Turkey continued to outperform the least advantaged by about 66 points in the science PISA 2015 test, which is the equivalent to roughly two extra years of schooling (OECD, 2017[27]).

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Figure 1.14. Percentage of variance in PISA 2015 reading scores explained by students’ socio-economic status
Upper middle-income countries participating in PISA 2015
Figure 1.14. Percentage of variance in PISA 2015 reading scores explained by students’ socio-economic status

Note: Countries are ranked in ascending order of percentage of variance explained by students’ socio-economic status.

Source: OECD (2016[15]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education,

Students in the most prestigious schools tend to come from more advantaged backgrounds

As is the case in most countries that track students into different upper secondary programmes based on their academic performance, schools in Turkey demonstrate a relatively high level disparity in educational access by social background. In other words, the practice of grouping students by ability accentuates social and educational disparities, with the most prestigious schools (science and social science high schools) attracting students that are both high performers and come from the most advantaged socio-economic backgrounds (see Figure 1.15). Almost half of the students in these schools come from the top quintile according to the PISA Index of Economic, Social and Cultural Status5 (ESCS), while only about 10% of students came from the least advantaged quintile (Figure 1.16). While the 2018 reform to the placement system plans to eliminate ability grouping in most schools, places in science, social science and other prestigious high schools (10% of places in a given catchment area) will still be allocated based on performance (see Chapter 4).

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Figure 1.15. Average reading score and average ESCS by type of school (PISA 2015)
Figure 1.15. Average reading score and average ESCS by type of school (PISA 2015)

Note: PISA ESCS is the PISA Index of Economic, Social and Cultural Status. The size of the bubble represents the sample size in PISA 2015.

Source: Authors’ calculation based on OECD (2016[15]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education,

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Figure 1.16. Distribution of PISA 2015 students by quintile of socio-economic background and type of programmes
Figure 1.16. Distribution of PISA 2015 students by quintile of socio-economic background and type of programmes

Note: Type of schools are ranked in descending order of share of students from the lowest socio-economic quintile.

Source: Authors’ calculation based on OECD (2016[17]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,

Education access and outcomes vary significantly by geographic location

Turkey has the highest degree of inter-regional socio-economic disparity among OECD countries, a pattern reflected also in education opportunities and outcomes (OECD, 2016[1]). In 2016, more than a third of young people aged 25-34 had attained a tertiary level of education in the rich western regions of Istanbul and West Anatolia, while less than a quarter had attained this level in the less developed eastern and northern regions (Central-East Anatolia, West Black Sea, Central Anatolia, Northeast Anatolia, Southeast Anatolia) (Table 1.3).

Disparities in school participation start to become pronounced when students enter upper secondary education, and opportunity costs combined with other factors begin to weigh more heavily (Figure 1.17). Net enrolment rates in high school are over 85% in western regions while they are below 70% in the less developed Eastern and Southern parts of the country (ERI, 2016[18]). In some communities, drop-out begins even earlier, in particular in poor, rural areas where some children need to combine study and work (UNICEF, 2012[21]). Almost half of households in rural areas are engaged in subsistence farming, which influences child attendance and contributes to a negative cycle of low levels of learning, disengagement and ultimately leave formal education early (UNICEF, 2012[21]). Turkey recorded the highest degree of disparity in learning outcomes between rural and urban areas among upper middle-income countries and OECD countries participating in PISA 2015 (OECD, 2016[15]).

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Table 1.3. Socio-economic indicators by region


Total population, all ages (2016)1

GDP per capita, USD (2014)2

Unemployment rate (%), 25 years old and above (2016)2

Tertiary attainment rate (%) of 25-34 year-olds (2016)3


1 465 700

19 957



West Anatolia

7 643 316

13 264



East Marmara

7 499 360

14 702



East Black Sea

2 572 850

8 493



West Marmara

3 387 451

12 172




10 138 145

11 638



Turkey average

7 874 110

12 112




10 039 948

9 798



Central-east Anatolia

3 824 820

6 087



West Black Sea

4 502 521

8 446



Central Anatolia

3 894 345

8 892



Northeast Anatolia

2 195 359

6 383



Southeast Anatolia

8 385 548

6 252



Sources: 1. OECD (2018[2]), OECD Statistics, (accessed on 20 February 2018); 2. TUIK (2018[51]), Turkish Statistical Institute, (accessed on 01 February 2018); 3. OECD (2017[9]), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,

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Figure 1.17. Net enrolment rate by age group and region, 2016
Figure 1.17. Net enrolment rate by age group and region, 2016

Note: Regions are ranked in descending order of net enrolment rate of 14-17 year-olds.

Source: MoNE (2017[26]), Millî Eğitim İstatistikleri [National Education Statistics, Formal Education 2016/2017]

Girls’ participation in school has increased significantly

Turkey has significantly improved girls’ participation in education. Over the past decade, the country achieved gender parity in both primary and lower secondary education and increased dramatically girls’ access to high school. At the upper secondary education level, the gender parity index narrowed from 0.6 in 2000 to 0.9 in 2015 (UIS, 2017[19]). This success was driven both by the overall push to expand enrolment as well as by national awareness campaigns specifically targeting girls’ such as the MoNE-UNICEF “Hey Girls Let’s Go to School” (2002-07). With respect to learning outcomes, gender differences are similar to those in most OECD countries. In PISA 2015, girls and boys perform at similar levels in mathematics and science but girls outperformed boys by 28 score points in the reading test (OECD, 2016[15]).

copy the linklink copied!Conclusion

To achieve the goal of its Tenth Development Plan of becoming more competitive in the world economy, Turkey is aware that it needs to develop the skills of its young people. This will require a continued effort to expand access to both early childhood education and upper secondary education. More importantly, it will require a significant improvement in the quality of teaching and learning practices at all levels. The following four chapters look at how changes to student assessment policies and practices – and to the curriculum and evaluation frameworks that orient these – can help catalyse this needed transformation. Each chapter also considers how the different elements of evaluation and assessment interact with each other to create synergies to effectively support student learning (Box 1.2).

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Box 1.2. OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education

OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education look at how evaluation and assessment policy can be used to improve student outcomes. They assess countries’ evaluation and assessment policies and practices for school education, and draw on insights from international practices, to provide actionable recommendations.

The reviews in this series focus on four key components:

  • Student assessment monitors and provides feedback on individual student progress and certifies the achievement of learning goals. It covers classroom-based assessments as well as large-scale, external assessments and examinations.

  • Teacher appraisal assesses the performance of teachers in providing quality learning for their students.

  • School evaluation looks at the effectiveness of schools in providing quality education.

  • System evaluation uses educational information to monitor and evaluate the education system against national goals.

This review for Turkey focuses specifically on student assessment, and how the curriculum and evaluation framework – teacher appraisal, school evaluation and system evaluation – supports assessments practices.

The reviews draw on existing OECD work on evaluation and assessment, which included reviews of 14 countries’ evaluation and assessment policies and practices (OECD, 2013[28]). Each country review is based on national information, provided by the country to the OECD; background research and country visits. During the country visits, a team of OECD staff and international experts meet with key actors across the education system to identify policy strengths and challenges and discuss the challenges of evaluation and assessment with national actors. The OECD prepares a report for the country which analyses national practices and policies and provides policy recommendations to strengthen evaluation and assessment linked to national goals and priorities.

Source: OECD (2013[28]), Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment,


[11] Bayraktar, U. and É. Massicard (2012), Decentralisation in Turkey,

[10] Celik, Z. and B. Gür (2013), “Turkey’s education policy during the AK party era (2002-13)”, Insight Turkey, (accessed on 31 January 2018).

[25] Clark, J. (ed.) (2014), Closing the Achievement Gap from an International Perspective, Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht,

[43] Dumont, H., D. Istance and F. Benavides (2010), The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[41] EPDAD (2016), Öğretmen Eğitiminde Program Değerlendirme Ve Akreditasyon El Kitabi [Teacher Accreditation Manual], Eğitim Fakülteleri Programlarini Değerlendirme Ve Akreditasyon Derneği,

[18] ERI (2016), Education Monitoring Report 2015-2016, (accessed on 31 January 2018).

[38] European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice (2015), The Teaching Profession in Europe: Practices, Perceptions and Policies, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg,

[36] HRW (2015), When I Picture My future, I See Nothing: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey,

[24] Kamal, K. (2017), Education in Turkey, (accessed on 2 February 2018).

[40] Kan, A. (2017), Teacher Capacity in School-based Assessment: Workshop Report, Ministry of National Education, Ankara.

[22] Köseleci, N. (2015), “Progress towards good-quality education for all in Turkey: A qualified success?”, Comparative Education, Vol. 51/4, pp. 555-574,

[47] Manpower (2015), Talent Shortage Survey, (accessed on 5 February 2018).

[7] Ministry of Development (2014), The Tenth Development Plan 2014-18, Government of the Republic of Turkey, Ankara,

[45] Ministry of Public Works and Development (2017), Medium Term Program 2018-2020 [Orta Vadeli Program 2018-2020], Ministry of Public Works and Development, Ankara,

[33] MoNE (2018), Institutional external quality inspection of vocational and technical secondary education.,

[30] MoNE (2018), Outlook of vocational and technical education in Turkey,

[8] MoNE (2017), Country Background Report - Turkey, Ministry of National Education, Ankara.

[26] MoNE (2017), Millî Eğitim İstatistikleri [National Education Statistics, Formal Education 2016/2017], Ministry of National Education, Ankara,

[42] MoNE (2017), Teacher Strategy 2017-2023, Ministry of National Education, Ankara,

[12] MoNE (2015), National Strategic Plan 2015-2019, Ministry of National Education, Ankara.

[14] MoNE (n.d.), Organisation Chart [Teşkilat Şeması], (accessed on 18 January 2019).

[39] Mullis, I., M. Martin and P. Foy (2003), TIMSS 2015 International Results in Mathematics, International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, (accessed on 15 February 2018).

[49] Mullis, I. et al. (2016), TIMSS 2015 International Results in Mathematics, International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, (accessed on 16 February 2018).

[31] MYK (2015), Turkish Qualifications Framework, Mesleki Yeterlilik Kurumu,

[2] OECD (2018), OECD Statistics, OECD Publishing, Paris, (accessed on 20 February 2018).

[20] OECD (2017), “Country profiles”, in The Funding of School Education: Connecting Resources and Learning, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[9] OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[27] OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’ Well-Being, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[23] OECD (2016), Diagram of the Education System: Turkey, OECD Education GPS, (accessed on 19 February 2018).

[37] OECD (2016), Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] OECD (2016), OECD Economic Surveys: Turkey 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[15] OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[17] OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[6] OECD (2016), Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[3] OECD (2016), Society at a Glance 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[13] OECD (2013), Education Policy Outlook: Turkey, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[48] OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[28] OECD (2013), Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment, OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[32] Özer, M. (2019), “Background of problems in Vocational Education and Training and its road map to solution in Turkey’s Education Vision 2023”, Journal of Higher Education and Science, Vol. 9(1), pp. 1-11.

[34] Özer, M. (2018), “The 2023 Education Vision and New Goals in Vocational and Technical Education”, Journal of Higher Education and Science, Vol. 8(3), pp. 425-435.

[44] Sasmaz, A. (2015), Politics of Educational Expansion in Turkey; Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2015, UNESCO, Paris,

[50] Spaull, N. (2017), “Who Makes It Into PISA?: Understanding the Impact of PISA Sample Eligibility Using Turkey as a Case Study (PISA 2003 - PISA 2012)”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 154, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[51] TUIK (2018), Turkish Statistical Institute, (accessed on 1 February 2018).

[19] UIS (2017), UIS Statistics on Education, (accessed on 1 February 2018).

[5] UNDP (2015), Human Development Data (1990-2015), Human Development Reports, (accessed on 19 February 2018).

[35] UNHCR (2017), Turkey Education Sector: Mid-year Report, UN Inter-Agency Coordination Turkey, (accessed on 16 February 2018).

[21] UNICEF (2012), Turkey Country Study - Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children,

[4] World Bank (2016), World Bank Open Data (Database), (accessed on 20 February 2018).

[16] World Bank (2013), Promoting Excellence in Turkey’s Schools, The World Bank Group, Washington, DC, (accessed on 9 February 2018).

[29] World Bank (2011), Improving the Quality and Equity of Basic Education In Turkey: Challenges and Options, The World Bank, Washington, DC, (accessed on 8 February 2018).

[46] World Bank (2007), Turkey Higher Education Policy Study (Volume I): Strategic Directions for Higher Education in Turkey, The World Bank Group, Washington, DC,

copy the linklink copied!Annex 1.A. Key indicators
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Annex Table 1.A.1. Key indicators


List of key indicators


OECD Countries

Background information 



GDP per head in USD PPP, 20161

23 469

38 096


GDP annual growth rate (%), 20161





Population annual growth rate (%), 20162




Population aged 14 years or less (%), 20162




Fertility rate (%) (children per women aged 15-49 years old), 20151




Unemployment rates (%)

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24 years old), 20161



Total unemployment rate (aged 15 above), 20161




Share (%) of adults scoring below or at level 1 in literacy, 20163




Share (%) of adults scoring below or at level 1 in numeracy, 20163



Education indicators



Usual starting age of early childhood education programmes, 20154




Starting age of compulsory education, 20154




Duration of compulsory education (years), 20154





Number of years for which at least 90% of children are enrolled, 20154




Net enrolment rates (%), 2015

Pre-primary education (3-4 year-olds) 4



Primary education (5-14 year-olds) 4



Secondary education (15-19 year-olds) 4




Tertiary education attainment rate (%) (25-34 year-olds), 20164




Share (%) of students enrolled in vocational programmes for upper secondary education (15-19 year-olds), 20154





Ratio of students to teaching staff, 2015

Primary education4



Lower secondary education4



Upper secondary education4




Share (%) of female teachers, 2014

Pre-primary education5



Primary education5



Lower secondary education5



Upper secondary education5




Ratio of teachers' statutory salaries relative to average earnings of

tertiary-educated workers, 2015

Lower secondary education, general programmes4



Upper secondary education, general programmes4





Total expenditure on primary to tertiary educational institutions

as a percentage of GDP4




Total public expenditure on primary education as a percentage of total government expenditure4




Total public expenditure on secondary education as a percentage of total government expenditure4




Average expenditure per student in USD PPP to GDP, 2014

Primary education4

3 589

8 733

Lower secondary education4

2 953

10 235

Upper secondary education4

3 570

10 182

Tertiary education4

8 927

16 143

Student performance 


Mean students' performance in science, PISA 20156




Percentage of students below PISA proficiency level 2 in science, PISA 20156




Percentage of variance in science performance explained by student's socio-economic background, PISA 20156



Sources: 1. OECD (2018[2]), OECD Statistics, (accessed on 20 February 2018); 2. World Bank (2016[4]), World Bank Open Data (Database), (accessed on 20 February 2018); 3. OECD (2016[6])Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills; 4. OECD (2017[9])Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators; 5. OECD (2016[37])Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators; 6. OECD (2016[15])PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education


← 1. The World Bank classification of countries by income groups was used to calculate the average share of upper middle-income countries.

← 2. The Student Learning Achievement Monitoring assessment was introduced under the Ministry of National Education’s 2023 Education Vision. It is intended to provide schools with diagnostic information on students’ strengths and weaknesses in Turkish, mathematics and science. As of mid-2019, some 300.000 students in grades 4, 7 and 10 have participated in the assessment. The Turkish Language Skills Study assesses the competencies of students in four areas: listening, reading, writing and speaking. It has so far been conducted in 15 provinces prior to the nationwide placement exams, providing students with feedback on their Turkish language proficiency and suggestions on areas where they need to improve. The Common Examinations initiative refers to newly introduced joint examinations conducted at the provincial level. The purpose is to provide large-scale, comparable data on student performance as well as information for students themselves to better understand their proficiency gaps. The Ministry of National Education expects that the results obtained from these initiatives will be examined at the school level and used to inform the design of weekend courses to help students address areas of weakness. These initiatives were introduced after the analysis for this review was completed and are therefore not addressed in this report.

← 3. The PISA proficiency Level 2 is considered the baseline level of proficiency in mathematics, science and reading to be able to pursue further studies and find employment. All students are expected to reach this level by the end of compulsory education.

← 4. Spaull (2017[50]) calculates “access-to-literacy” and “access-to-numeracy” rates. These rates are defined as the proportions of 15-16 year-olds that achieve Level 2 in PISA whether they are in school or have dropped out. The underlying assumption is that students that have left the education system before the age of 15 have not reached the PISA proficiency Level 2 in reading and mathematics.

← 5. In PISA, a student’s socio-economic status is estimated by the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS), which is derived from several variables related to students’ family background: parents’ education, parents’ occupations, a number of home possessions that can be taken as proxies for material wealth, and the number of books and other educational resources available in the home.

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Chapter 1. The Turkish education system