Education in Turkey

This guide was written by Francine Carrel, Assistant Editor of Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was updated on 18 September 2017. The law and practice in Turkey change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

Our guides are prepared by professionals from many countries. They are, of necessity, both brief and general and can take no account of your personal circumstances. They are intended to be a good introduction to the subject BUT ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, which our contributors will usually be happy to provide upon request.

The advice and opinions contained in the guides are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Guides.Global.

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The scope of this guide

This guide is about schools and schooling in Turkey. It covers education from early childhood to the end of high school. It does not cover university or other higher education.


Education in Turkey is improving. It still ranks amongst the lowest in the OECD countries, but the organisation recognises the improvements born from increased investment.

Nonetheless, there are huge challenges for education in Turkey. In 2010, only 31% of Turkish adults between 25-64 had a high school diploma or its equivalent - way below the OECD average of 74%. Even amongst current students, the average Turkish child performs significantly lower in literacy, mathematical ability and sciences than the OECD average.

This year (2017), state education in Turkey has come under criticism from secular groups, as the curriculum appears to be moving further towards reflecting Islamist values. As of September 2017, the theory of evolution is not covered in school, while the concept of jihad is.

Children must attend school from the age of five. Nursery and preschool education is also available – and encouraged – but not compulsory. 12 years’ education is compulsory, meaning that someone could leave school at 17.

Education is mandatory for 12 years - between the ages of five and 17. Turkey follows a fairly new 4+4+4 method: four years in primary school, four years in middle school and four years in high school. This policy has come under some criticism, as children can begin to follow a vocational or technical path from as young as 11 years old - too young, critics say, to make this decision.

A person working in Turkey will be entitled to use the state system. Recognised refugees are also entitled to use the system. Most other foreigners will not be able to do so.

Private schools vs state schools

The main decision a parent has to make is whether to send their child to a state or private school. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of state education in Turkey

There are four main advantages to putting your child through the state school system:

  1. Your child will be mixing with 'ordinary' local Turkish children. They will make friends quickly, and pick up the language much faster and more easily. This is especially true if they are very young (eight or below).

  2. They will become immersed and integrated in Turkish society. Attending a private or international school can leave children a little on the sidelines when it comes to culture.

    There is no greater gift to your child than to make them completely and seamlessly bicultural. This is more than just speaking the language. It is understanding about the history and mindset of the people where you live. It is being intimately familiar with the politics and the football and the religion and the local social activities. Being totally bicultural also offers huge range of well-paying job opportunities.

    Remember that, if you want to take advantage of this, you will need to make sure that your children do not lose contact with their own roots. You will want to make sure they spend time speaking their own language, reading about and discussing their own culture and meeting many people from that culture. However, for most people this is not a problem.

  3. Having your child attend a local Turkish school helps you integrate into Turkish society. They will tell you what is going on. They will help you learn the language. They will introduce you to the parents of their friends.

  4. Of course, a final advantage of using a state school is that it is free!

Cons of state education in Turkey

Public education in Turkey has its problems.

Turkey has a very young population, which has lead to overcrowding and huge classes in schools. Your child will probably not get a lot of one-on-one time with their teacher.

Methods of education may seem old-fashioned: there's a great focus on memorisation and recitation of facts and dates.

Discipline can sometimes get physical - a clip round the ear is not the fireable offence it might be in England or the US.

Girls are likely to be under more scrutiny than boys when it comes to their behaviour and dress. Gender equality is not guaranteed in either social or academic worlds. Girls are 9% less likely to graduate high schools than boys.

The ruling party, the AKP, has been criticised for shaping the national curriculum to be more in line with their Islamist beliefs. This year (2017) has been no exception. While Turkish private schools are also subject to the whims of the party, an international school's curriculum is not.

There seems to be a big gap in the quality of education between state and private schools. The best schools in Turkey produce students that perform above the OECD average - but Turkey as a whole is below the average.

As well as all of this, a child (especially an older child) can struggle to adjust to a complete overhaul of their life. Being thrust into a culture, social system and curriculum that they are completely unfamiliar with can be emotionally draining. Private schools are a more gentle adjustment, especially if they are bilingual.

State schools in Turkey

State education in Turkey is secular. It is presided over by the Ministry of National Education.

State schools' academic years usually run from September to mid-June, with a two-week break in the winter (January/February). Expats used to having time off for Christmas should remember that this is not the norm in Turkey.

Lunches are brought to school or eaten at home, as cafeterias are not common.

Uniforms are worn in Turkish schools. Primary schools may require simple blue clothing, but older children will need to wear school-specific uniforms.

Pre-school education in Turkey

Pre-school (or pre-primary) education is for children between three and five years old. It is optional in Turkey. As in the rest of the world, pre-school education aims to socialise children, ensure good early development, make sure they speak the language well, and set up a foundation for more formal learning.

Primary (compulsory) education in Turkey

child at schoolPrimary education is compulsory. It starts when the child is 66 months old (five-and-a-half).

It comprises eight years of education: four years in primary school and four years in middle school.

Primary school will focus on core subjects: Turkish, maths, Hayat Bilgisi ("Life Knowledge") and a foreign language (usually English, German, or French)

Religious classes, focusing on Islam, will begin halfway through primary school. These classes aren't compulsory for foreign children, but it might be useful for your child to attend.

In middle school, children will learn Turkish, maths, science, social studies and a foreign language. In the last year of middle school, social studies is replaced by Turkish History of Revolution and Kemalism, which places a heavy focus on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (see our Guide to Voting & Politics in Turkey).

In some parts of the country, primary education is run in two daily sessions: morning and afternoon. This is because the school age population is so large that the school can't teach everyone at once.

Secondary/high school education in Turkey

High school, or at least some form of secondary education, is now compulsory. This is a relatively recent (2012) development. High school runs from 14-18 years old.

High school students learn Turkish language, Turkish literature, maths, science (physics, chemistry and biology), history, geography, religion & ethics (with a focus on Islam but still learning about other religions), physical education, and two foreign languages (usually English and French or German, but sometimes Italian, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, or Chinese).

Entrance exams vary from school to school and year to year.

Types of high school in Turkey

Students who show exceptional ability and interest in the sciences may go to a Science High School (Fen Liseleri) to learn science, maths and engineering.

Private schools in Turkey

Private schools in Turkey teach the Turkish curriculum, in Turkish. Your child will need to take a competency exam before being allowed to attend. If they do not speak Turkish well, this is probably not the correct path for you to take.

Private schools in Turkey are very expensive: thousands of US dollars per year. On top of that, you'll have to pay for pricy books and uniforms for your children.

Private schools do have their advantages, as mentioned above: small class sizes, top-of-their-field teachers, and a greater range of extra-curricular options.

International schools in Turkey

International schools either teach the curriculum of another country or work towards an International Baccalaureate (IB) lightbulb image or Cambridge International certificate lightbulb image. They are generally bilingual (Turkish and the language of the curriculum). There are international schools in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

This type of school is particularly popular with expats whose children are already a while into their education - it's not so much of a jarring transition. Older children can have a harder time learning Turkish than their younger siblings, and they are more likely to be close to important exams.

If you want your child to attend an international school, apply well in advance. Waiting lists are long - especially in Ankara.

International schools are expensive: even more so than 'normal' private schools. You can expect to pay a couple of thousand US dollars in application/enrolment fees, plus between US$9,000-US$30,000 per year in tuition fees (depending on the school and the age of your child - the older the child, the more expensive the tuition).

For this reason, many expats coming to work for foreign organisations in Turkey negotiate some allowance for their children's education in their contract.

City School Curriculum
Ankara Oasis International School American
Ankara British Embassy School Ankara English
Ankara Lycée Charles de Gaulle French
Ankara Ernst-Reuter-Schule German
Istanbul British International School Istanbul English, International Baccalaureate (IB)
Istanbul Istanbul International Community School IB
Istanbul Eurosun IB, English, German
Istanbul Keystone International Schools American
Istanbul Deutsche Schule Istanbul German
Istanbul Lycée Français Pierre Loti d'Istanbul French
Izmir MEF International School Cambridge International

If we've missed your international school, please tell us by commenting below or emailing office@guides.global. We'll add it as soon as possible.

Expats' Tips

Email office@guides.global with your tips and opinions on education in Turkey.


It will take a great deal of thought to reach a decision on where to educate your child. Speak to fellow expat parents - preferably in the area you're looking at - for some experienced opinions. Contact and communicate with lots of different schools. Once you've decided, remember to apply well in advance!

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
Turkey Country Guide
Essential facts and figures about Turkey
Click to see this guide
Cultural Differences in Turkey
What culture shocks might you experience?
Click to see this guide

You may also want to read:

 Description Link 
Education in Turkey
A World Education News and Reviews report
Education in Turkey

Readers' Comments


Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Francine Carrel

23 February 2017


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