Going to School

Life in Turkey is fun. But it has also a serious side — going to school, for example. Those raising children in Turkey know well the difficulties related to finding an appropriate way of educating them.

Is home schooling better than school attendance? Is private education in Turkey preferable to public? And how about finding the right school? To help you a bit with decisions like these, this week Today’s Zaman will provide you with some basic knowledge about the Turkish education system.

Indeed, over the last years, various steps have been taken in Turkey to overhaul the national system of education. To inform oneself in detail about all the regulations related to the Turkish education system, foreigners can have a look at Law No: 4306, which radically changed the structure and operation of Turkish education institutions in 1997. The law, its related regulations and executive orders can be found on the Web site of the Turkish Ministry of Education (Milli E?itim Bakanl???), which can be accessed at In order to save you hours of sifting through scattered pieces of a number of documents and reports, here we’ve prepared the most important facts.

With the mentioned law change in 1997, compulsory education in Turkey was changed to eight years. This obligatory period is covered by the so-named “primary schools” (ilk okulu). School enrollment in the first grade usually happens at the age of five to six years. Secondary education, which naturally starts then at the age of 13-14, is done at high schools (lise).

The responsible institutions for the different branches of education are the local primary school directors’ offices for primary education (?lk Ö?retim Müdürlükleri), and the local national education directorate’s offices (Milli E?itim Müdürlükleri) for secondary education. Don’t hesitate to ask these institutions for any kind of information, including lists of schools in your area.

Last but not least, you should definitely pay attention to any existing class certifications or documents of your children from prior schools. These have to be completely translated and notarized for approval by the Turkish Ministry of Education.

Choosing a public or a private school?

Education at public schools or kindergartens is usually free of charge, though parents have to pay numerous side costs — namely school uniforms and a good part of the teaching materials. Still, private schools are much more expensive, though often preferred by those who can afford it. But does private education really make such a big difference in quality? “Well, I think it makes a difference,” says Swedish expatriate Linda, who works as a school teacher in a private school. “Even when the teachers are well chosen, the classes in public schools are usually crowded. I heard about if first hand from colleagues who work in shifts to cope with the number of children,” she says. Another shortcoming of public schools, she says, would be the lack of foreign language education. At any rate, to be sure whether the public school is the right one or not, she recommends that you “simply visit and have a look yourself; this may help to erase any prejudices.” But in case you decide to choose a private school, she adds, start the application process as early as possible. “In our school some parents wait two years for a free place,” she says.

Another unique feature of the Turkish school system is the “dershane” structure. A dershane is an institution that serves as an addition to the schools, thereby better preparing the students for special finals or certain entrance exams. These private courses are very common and can also cost a lot of money. Most famous is prepping for the Student Selection Examination (ÖSS), Turkey’s countrywide university entrance exam.

And one more basic fact that has to be taken into account when deciding to send your offspring to school in Turkey is that nearly all schools require very good Turkish skills — both oral and written.

Nonetheless, those parents who wish to focus on a multilingual education have two possibilities, which are — unfortunately – again expensive. To receive a good foreign language education, one can send children to the Anadolu High Schools (Anadolu Lisesi), which offer German or English as a first foreign language and often give additional bilingual lessons in other subjects. These Anadolu High Schools are widely regarded as a kind of elite school. Just 5 percent of all applicants pass the compulsory entrance exam. But they are very professional, and many such schools have experience in serving foreigners’ specific needs, for example by offering certain foreigners’ classes with a special language focus (yabanc? dil s?n?f?).

The second possibility to guarantee your child a multilingual education is by sending them to one of the so-named “international schools,” which are often owned and managed by foreign institutions. Some embassies may allow their nationals to send their children to school there, though this is not always the case.

There are some Web sites containing lists with several international schools all around Turkey. One of these collections you can reach through, another one is The latter even contains a small database of additional evaluations of some schools regarding its organizational structure, quality and atmosphere.

Pros and cons of home schooling

And in the end, how did other expatriate parents make their decision? British citizen Nina recommends: “Take a look at the lively Turkish expatriates’ online forums, and you will always find several families in the same boat with advice to offer on just this sort of thing.” Indeed, in these forums you will find endless posts on babysitting, playgroups, nurseries — and schools in your area. One of the most renowned and frequently used is still

One topic that is discussed here more often is the possibility of “home schooling,” which means arranging a private teacher for the children and letting them take lessons at home instead of attending school. American expatriate Carole, for example, who has five children, proposes: “The international schools seem incredibly expensive for a large family like mine. So we were thinking of hiring a part-time teacher for some of the week to follow the children’s curriculum. We intend to bring over all their school books.” And Kate from the States knows a family with six children, all home schooled, and says that she is also home schooling her almost 14 year old, though, she says: “It may be good for a couple of days a week to learn Turkish. Therefore one has to invent a solution as well.”

So, home schooling is possible in Turkey. “Foreigners’ children will be hardly forced to attend an official school,” says a representative of the Ministry of Education at the Turkish Consulate in Munich. Though, he says, such details as the approval of exams and curriculums would have to be discussed with the Turkish Ministry of Education — or you arrange everything according to the curriculum of your home country, depending on what you want, the representative says.