The Republic of Turkey places utmost importance on the development of human resources; therefore, education has always been one of its highest priorities. The contemporary Turkish education system was established in 1924 after Atatürk closed the religious schools, set up new secular schools, and made elementary school attendance compulsory. Atatürk regarded education as the force that would galvanize the nation's social and economic development. When the republic was established, less than 10 percent of its approximately thirteen million people were literate. There were twenty-three high schools, one university, and a small number of trade or vocational schools. Turkey began a program to educate both children and adults. From grade school to graduate school, education was made free, secular, and coeducational. Five years of elementary school were made compulsory. By 1938, one-third of the people were literate.
One of the major factors contributing to this increase in literacy was Atatürk's decision in 1928 to abolish the complex Arabic script that had been used for thousands of years and replace it with the Latin alphabet. In the early 1930s, other language reforms eliminated thousands of Arabic, Persian, and French words and replaced them with original words, provincial expressions, and coined words. This commitment to creating a national language continued over the years. In the early 1920s, over 80 percent of Turkey's written language was Arabic, Persian, and French words; by the early 1980s only 10 percent of the vocabulary was foreign words.
It took many years for the country to develop the infrastructure needed to provide universal primary education, but since the 1980s almost all children between ages six and ten have been enrolled in schools. Turkey's literacy rate in 1990 was 81 percent. Since then the number of Turkish citizens who can read and write has increased each year. The Turkish National Education System is composed of two main sections: formal education and nonformal education. Formal education includes preschool education, primary education, secondary education, and higher education. Nonformal education includes all programs and activities outside the school or along with the school for those who have dropped out of or never attended formal education programs. A total of 14,668,444 students received formal or nonformal instruction in the 1998-1999 school year. That year a total of 512,522 teachers worked in the 64,489 institutions. Approximately 31 percent of Turkey's population is between ages twelve and twenty-four. In an effort to deal with the interests and problems of its young people, Turkey plans to establish the Higher Council of Youth with representatives from both the public and private sectors. This council will assume the responsibilities of the many ministries that have been focusing on one or more components of youth, such as education, health, working life, and utilization of free time.
The importance of educating both males and females has been recognized since the Republic of Turkey was established. While the principle of gender equality is present in the Constitution and various laws, females at all levels have traditionally received less formal education than males and had less opportunities because the great majority of Turkey's patriarchal society practice Moslem beliefs. The position of females in modern society has improved and several decrees have focused on eliminating gender discrimination. Women's issues were key portion of the Fifth Five Year Development Plan (1985-1990). Part of this plan was the establishment of the General Directorate for the Status and Problems of Women in 1990. This directorate has been active, working to improve the status and opportunities for women. Among the facilities now available are a central women's library, shelters for battered women, and women's study centers.
In 1995 at the Fourth World Women's Conference, Turkey adopted the conference platform for improving education and job opportunities for women. One of the goals was to increase the ratio of literacy among women to 100 percent by 2000. This goal was not attained, however. In 1999, one-third of the women were illiterate although 135,000 had enrolled in literacy courses in 1998. The increase in the number of years of compulsory education ensures that females will receive more formal education than in the past. The urban unemployment of women is twice that of men; however, the unemployment rate for urban, educated women (28.6 percent) is comparable to their male counterparts (30 percent), thus underscoring the value of education in Turkish society. The number of women enrolled in higher education programs has increased over the years. In 2000, almost one-third of the students were women. Many of these were enrolled in programs that have been traditionally considered appropriate for females, such as the humanities and social sciences and fine arts, but the number of women studying medicine and engineering has increased.
In 1999, Turkey had 106 youth centers where young people could spend their free time in a variety of educational, social, cultural, and athletic activities or they could meet with guidance counselors. Over 22,000 youths participated in youth center programs in 1999. In addition to these programs, youths can visit one of the fifty-two youth and guidance bureaus or participate in one of the youth festivals that occur across Turkey. The General Directorate of Youth and Sports sponsored the Fourth International Folk Dance Festival in 1999 so Turkish young people would become better educated about the cultures of other countries and those countries' youths would learn more about Turkey's customs and traditions.
Private schools are available at all levels of education. Because Turkey's constitution prohibits the public wearing of clothing of a religious nature, even those attending Islamic private schools must comply. The ban on females wearing headscarves has been strictly applied in public schools for some time, but the ban was not applied in the private sector until 2000. This ban has been especially controversial. Although most Turks are Muslim, the state is officially secular.
Most private schools are found in urban regions. Their curricula often include an emphasis developing the knowledge and skills needed to prepare university entrance exams. English is taught in many of the private schools, and in some schools is the language of instruction.
The Ministry of National Education oversees private schools and ensures the State policies and guidelines are followed. In 1997, amendments were passed that allow private schools to have a greater role. In 1999, approximately 1.6 percent of the students attended private schools, but the number is increasing. The ministry projects that 15 percent or more of the population will attend these schools. In the 1998-1999 school year, there were 1,704 private preschools, primary schools, and secondary schools attended by 238,079 students. Approximately 21,000 teachers were employed at these schools.
There are over 200 special training schools and over 100 centers for students who need special services because of their physical, mental, emotional, or social development disabilities. Special training schools are provided for children and youths in five different disabilities groups including blindness, deafness, orthopedic disabilities, mental retardation, and long-term illnesses. The primary objectives of these programs are to meet the individual educational needs of the students, to integrate them into society, and to provide them with a vocation. Efforts are underway to integrate the special needs students at regular schools with students their own ages. This process is called "combining," In the 1998-1999 school year, over 32,500 students were in special training schools and institutions. Approximately one-third of these were combined in regular classroom programs. Job and vocational programs are also available for adults with special needs.
Turkey has educational, scientific, and cultural agreements with many countries and is an active member of a number of organizations that benefit education. Among these are the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Ministry of National Education actively participates in the Center for Research and Innovation (CERI) and the in the Educational Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Turkish youths are encouraged to participate in international organizations and activities. The Ministry of National Education has begun courses aimed at educating youth leaders for exchange programs.
Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceTurkey - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education