The Turkish level of education is quite low compared to most European countries. For the big city elite, however, there are schools and universities of the highest class. The current government has prolonged compulsory schooling and invested heavily in new universities in areas that previously lacked higher education, but is accused by the opposition of increasing Islam’s influence on education.
- COUNTRYAAH: Country facts of Turkey, including geography profile, population statistics, and business data.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the state invested relatively little in education, especially given the large proportion of young people in the population. School was compulsory for five years, but many did not even go that long. Prior to high school there was a voluntary three-year high school. In 1997, compulsory schooling was extended to eight years. All elementary schools received a common syllabus, and students were banned from moving to state imam schools, imam hatip, after their first five school years.
In 2012, the government pushed through a controversial school reform. The school duty was increased to twelve years, but at the same time it was also possible for students to change to an imam school already after the fourth school year. The reform received criticism from secular circles for encouraging religious studies and thereby being a feature of a feared Islamization of the country. But the government emphasized the increased personal freedom and emphasized that the general level of education should be increased.
Another reform came into force in 2014 and meant that students who did not enter the schools they chose for high school or high school were placed in the nearest school, regardless of its focus. As the number of Imam schools has increased significantly faster than regular schools or vocational schools, it has led to students being placed in the religious schools against their will, for which Turkey has been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights.
The Imam schools were originally intended to train imams, prayer leaders in the mosques, but they had become increasingly popular as alternative high schools because of their religiously influenced teaching, with different classes for boys and girls.
Most children in Turkey start primary school today, although there are neighborhoods in the east and south-east where many girls are absent. Since 2003, the government, in collaboration with the UN Children’s Fund Unicef, has been running a campaign for all girls to attend school. In 2004, Turkey allocated more money to the school system for the first time than to the defense. State schools are free of charge, but students pay for the books. The school uniforms were abolished in 2012, except in special schools for Greeks, Armenians and Jews.
A few years after the turn of the millennium, an earlier ban on teaching Kurdish in public schools began to loosen up. Private courses in the Kurdish language, mainly for adults, were admitted in 2002. Since 2012, education in Kurdish has been allowed as an optional subject in state schools to the extent of sufficient demand. Private schools are allowed to conduct Kurdish education, but the conditions are so stringent, among other things, new premises and new staff are required, that only three Kurdish schools had been started up until 2016. The measures implemented by the government after the failed coup attempt in 2016 against other teachers and other public employees however, it is also reported to have gone beyond Kurds and the use of the Kurdish language.
Turkey has many universities. A handful of them in Ankara and Istanbul are more reputable than the others.
Competition for places at universities is fierce, and admission is blocked by entrance exams. More than half of the high school students take private courses, sometimes years in advance, to pass the exams. An entire industry of private course activities is financed by the students’ parents and contributes to distorting teaching and study habits.
Under the AKP Board since 2002, the state has founded a number of new universities. The number of private higher education institutions has also increased significantly. In 2018, the education authority YÖK counted 112 state and 74 foundation-driven universities and vocational schools above the basic education level.
Following the attempted coup d’état in 2016, thousands of private schools and 15 universities were closed with links to the religious Gülen movement (see Modern History and Current Politics). More than 27,000 teachers and other school staff lost their licenses. Academic scholarship programs funded by the EU and the US State Department were canceled and more than 2,300 university employees were laid off. In addition, during the summer, 11,500 teachers were suspended for alleged contacts with the Kurdish guerrilla PKK.
Even long before the purges in the summer of 2016, experienced academics had criticized recent years of service appointments at the universities to be based more on loyalty to the government than on research merits. Tens of thousands of students were left uncertain as to whether they could continue their studies and whether their future career opportunities would be hindered by studying at Gülenan affiliated universities. The purges have continued. Academics have suffered as well as military, journalists and employees in the judiciary.
- Educationvv: Provides school and education information in Turkey, covering middle school, high school and college education.
FACTS – EDUCATION
Proportion of children starting primary school
94.3 percent (2016)
Number of pupils per teacher in primary school
Reading and writing skills
96.2 percent (2016)
Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP
12.8 percent (2015)
Public expenditure on education as a percentage of the state budget
12.8 percent (2015)
A strike against the Gülen movement
President Erdoğan commands a new campaign against the Gülen movement. Immediately after his signal, the police raids around the country and seizes 27 people, including the editor-in-chief of the big newspaper Zaman, the chairman of the TV company Samanyolu, two former police chiefs, a TV producer, a director and several screenwriters. The arrests are condemned by the EU, among others. But President Erdoğan calls on the EU to conduct its own business, claiming that the raids were necessary answers to “the enemy’s dirty plot”. According to Erdoğan, the Gülen Movement is trying to establish a parallel state structure through the police, the courts and other government institutions, using its influence over the media.
Disputed new presidential palace
The country’s new presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara raises huge rebounds after being completed at a cost of the equivalent of US $ 615 million, almost twice as much as expected. According to the finance minister, the president’s new aircraft costs $ 185 million. Critics believe that the palace’s 1,000 rooms, on an area of 200,000 square meters, express a growing sense of grandeur with President Erdoğan. In addition, the large building is criticized for being built in a sensitive nature area. When the palace began to be built, it was intended to be used by the Prime Minister, who was then Erdoğan, but when he changed title, the palace holder also changed.
No charges against corruption suspects
Prosecutors are laying charges against 53 people suspected of participating in the major corruption scandal with links to the government revealed in December 2013. Among those released are two sons of former ministers.
The PKK soldiers back in Turkey
PKK leader Cemal Bayık says the guerrilla soldiers who had been withdrawn to the bases in the Kandil Mountains in Iraq have now returned to Turkey. In a German radio interview, he threatens to suspend the ceasefire with the Turkish state if the government continues to be passive in the face of IS’s offensive against the Kurds in Syria.
Many dead in Kurdish protests
Kurds protest that the army did not intervene to protect the Syrian Kurds threatened by IS, and protesters clash with riot police in a number of Turkish cities. In several cities, curfews are announced and military patrols the streets. In Istanbul, nearly 100 people are arrested and dozens of people injured, including eight policemen. After four days of unrest, the death toll is reported to be up to 31 people. Several of the deaths have occurred in clashes between Kurds and people who sympathize with IS. Representatives of the US and Iran are reportedly trying to persuade Turkey to join the international alliance fighting the Islamist sect in Syria and Iraq.
Military strike against IS is approved
Approves Turkey’s military intervention against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq; Parliament also gives clear signs to other states to send troops into both countries via Turkish soil. However, the decision does not automatically mean that Turkey is indeed entering the war. Prime Minister Davutoğlu says “we will do everything we can” to prevent the Kurdish-dominated Syrian city of Kobane, near the Turkish border, from falling into IS hands. The Islamists are reported to be just a kilometer from the city.
Schoolgirls may wear headscarves
The government repeals the ban on schoolgirls from grade five onwards to wear a headscarf. Previously, the shawl ban has been lifted for university students and public employees. According to Islamic tradition, girls can begin to hide their hair as they enter puberty.
Kurds flee from Syria
Over the course of a few days, more than 130,000 Syrians, the vast majority of Kurds, flee into Turkey from an IS offensive in northern Syria. The refugees talk about how the Kurds were killed by the extremist Sunni militia. At least 64 Kurdish villages must be occupied by IS, which seeks to conquer the strategically important Kurdish city of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab). The PKK guerrilla calls on Turkish Kurds to take up arms to protect Kobane. More than 300 obey the summons and enter Syria, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Along with Arab militias, Kurdish forces are reported to have slowed IS advances.
Davutoğlu becomes prime minister
The AKP’s executive committee nominates Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as new party chairman and prime minister. The opposition criticizes the election, saying that Davutoğlu is destined to become a puppet to Erdoğan, who is believed to be pushing the constitutional framework to retain power over government work. On August 28, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu will take up their new positions. Opposition members leave Parliament when Erdoğan is sworn in.
Erdoğan is elected president
As expected, Erdoğan wins the presidential election in the first round, albeit with a scarcer margin than the opinion polls predicted. He receives just under 52 percent of the vote, against just over 38 percent for CHP’s and MHP’s joint candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and just under 10 percent for Kurdish HDP’s Selahattin Demirtaş. After more than eleven years as a very strong and profiled Prime Minister, Erdoğan now assumes the formally less influential post of head of state, but he has made no secret that he wants to change the role of presidential office following the American model. So far, however, there is no support in the constitution for a direct decision-making president. The OSCE observerspoints out that the electoral movement has been carried out under democratic forms but that Erdogan’s position has given him tangible advantages over his competitors and that he has been heavily favored by the media. The EU leadership congratulates Erdoğan on the victory and expresses his hope that he will “guard the conciliatory role that the new position demands and strive to embrace all social groups, faiths, feelings, opinions and lifestyles in Turkish society”.
A new peace process is approved by Parliament
Approves a proposal from the government to resume the peace process with the Kurds; Among other things, impunity is guaranteed for people participating in conversations with the PKK guerrillas. Such legal immunity has long been sought by Kurdish politicians who have feared being prosecuted afterwards if the political winds begin to blow in another direction. Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is reportedly describing the new laws as “a historical development”. A few days later, the laws come into force after being signed by President Gül.
Lifetime prison for dome leaders
Two of the leaders of the 1980 bloody military coup, former president Kenan Evren and former Air Force commander Tahsin Şahinkaya, are sentenced to life imprisonment. They were arrested in 2012 and have not been able to be present during the long trial due to failing health. They are today 96 and 89 years respectively.
Turks are kidnapped by Islamists in northern Iraq
In connection with the Islamist Isis invasion of northern Iraq, the Islamists kidnap 80 Turkish nationals. 49 of them are employed by the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul. Among the abducted are the Consul General. The other kidnappers are security personnel, truck drivers and even children. The 31 truck drivers will be released in July and the 49 others only after just over three months. Turkish authorities give extremely vague information about the circumstances surrounding the releases but say no ransom has been handed over to the Islamists.
Protests after severe mining accident
Thousands of protesters clash with police in the country’s three largest cities since a mining accident in western Turkey claimed 301 lives. The country’s four largest unions are conducting a one-day strike in protest of lack of security in the mines. Prime Minister Erdoğan receives a brusque reception as he visits the scene of the accident and stirs up the emotion by referring to the fact that just as many died in mining accidents in Britain in the 19th century. Following harsh criticism of those responsible, charges of wrongdoing are brought to the death of another against eight of them, including the company CEO. According to the ILO, Turkey had the most workplace accidents in Europe and the third highest number in the world in 2012. Between 2002 and 2012, more than 1,000 Turkish miners were killed.
Criminal investigation against Gülen
Prosecutors initiate a preliminary investigation into crimes against Fethullah Gülen. The Islamic leader is suspected of trying to overthrow the government and lead a criminal organization. Prime Minister Erdoğan says he will request Gülen extradited from the United States.
AKP is strengthened in local elections
The local elections will be a great success for the AKP, despite all the corruption charges against the government party. The AKP receives just over 45 per cent of the votes and wins, among other things in the mega cities of Istanbul and Ankara, in Ankara, however, so finely that the competitor CHP requests recalculation of the votes, which is however rejected by the election committee. Analysts explain the AKP’s big victory with voters fully associating the high standard of living of the past decade with Erdogan’s policies, and that the conservative, religious masses on which the party rests are not particularly affected by social media interventions or environmental protests.
The government is blocking social media
The government allows the microblogging Twitter to close, after it, according to Erdoğan, refused to obey court orders to remove certain links. The closure takes place hours after the Prime Minister threatened to “wipe out” the blog, which along with other social networks were used for anonymous revelations about the major corruption scene in which Erdoğan himself was designated as involved. After two weeks, the Constitutional Court finds that the closure conflicts with the constitutionally protected freedom of expression and the rights of the individual, and the day after that the block is lifted. The prime minister says he intends to “put in” Twitter for tax evasion instead.
Erdogan’s phone call is leaked to the internet
Erdoğan admits that he is the one speaking on a recorded phone call that leaked to the media. On the tape, he is heard instructing the Minister of Justice to speed up a legal process against a corporate executive who has emerged as one of the government’s toughest critics. The Prime Minister says that it is entirely in order that the Minister of Justice oversees a judicial process, while the business leader considers the conversation as an example of how the government intervenes in the work of the judiciary. For a while, a large number of alleged recordings of Erdoğan’s telephone calls have been published. Most talks seem to confirm that the Prime Minister, his relatives and co-workers have been deeply involved in the alleged bribery. Erdoğan has claimed that the tapes are forged.
Special courts are abolished after Gülenist infiltration
Abolishes the specialized courts that have investigated and sentenced hundreds of military and others accused of attempted coups; The AKP government believes that these courts are so infiltrated by the Gülen movement that they pose a threat to the government. The decision may cause the trials to be reassigned to ordinary criminal courts.
Tighter control of the internet
Parliament adopts a law that gives the telecommunications authority the right to block Internet sites that are considered to infringe on the privacy of individuals or whose content is considered offensive; Internet operators are also forced to keep documentation of all Internet users’ activities online for two years and submit the information to the authorities on request, without notifying those concerned. Turkey is already one of the countries in the world that has the most restrictions on internet traffic and the parliamentary decision receives harsh criticism from the EU, which believes that the country is now taking a step back “in an already stifling media climate”.
Emergency care is politicized
A law comes into force that prohibits doctors from providing emergency care without the permission of the authorities. Critics fear that the law aims to prevent protesters harmed by police from receiving care. Doctors who defy the ban risk up to three years in prison and more than SEK 6 million in fines.
Hundreds of police officers are fired
350 police officers in Ankara are dismissed or relocated by a government decree, which is published at midnight on the night of January 7. Among them are the chiefs of the financial crime, smuggling, cybercrime and organized crime bosses. In total, 560 police officers have been deprived of their duties in the capital alone in recent weeks. The day after, the Deputy National Police Chief and the police chiefs are dismissed in 16 of the country’s provinces, including in several of the country’s largest cities. Not long afterwards, 20 prosecutors are relocated, among them the chief prosecutor in Istanbul. All reassigned have investigated matters that are considered sensitive to the government. The government is also launching a judicial inquiry into several high-ranking prosecutors who have worked with the large corruption legacy.