Education forms a core component of relocating abroad, particularly for expatriate families. In Turkey, understanding the local education system can be a complex task for expats, given its unique structure, extensive options for international schooling, and recognition of foreign qualifications.

In this comprehensive guide, we aim to provide a clear and informative overview of the Turkish education system for expat families, ultimately assisting them in making informed educational choices during their stay in Turkey.

We will start by exploring the basic structure of the Turkish education system, unpacking its different stages from pre-primary to higher education. We'll discuss each educational stage's curriculum structure, duration, and emphasis, providing a well-rounded understanding of what to expect at each level.

Join us as we navigate the complexities of the Turkish education system, equipping ex-pat families with the insights and confidence needed for their children to thrive in their new educational environment in Turkey.

Basic Structure of the Turkish Education System

One of the first steps when understanding the Turkish education system is to become familiar with its basic structure. The system comprises four key stages: pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary level education.

Pre-primary education caters to children aged 3 to 5 and is optional. Primary education, which usually spans ages 6 to 10, is compulsory and free in public schools. Secondary education consists of two main phases: a compulsory four-year lower secondary level known as "ortaokul" for ages 11 to 14, and an optional upper secondary level with multiple educational tracks catering to academic and vocational interests for ages 15 to 18. Tertiary-level education includes universities, institutes, conservatories, and vocational higher schools offering various undergraduate and postgraduate programs.

International Schools in Turkey

Recognizing the diverse educational needs of expatriate families, Turkey boasts numerous international schools throughout its major cities. These schools often follow internationally recognized curriculums, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), British, American, or French systems. The language of instruction at international schools is typically English, although some schools offer teaching in other languages like French or German, depending on the curriculum followed.

The admission process for international schools varies depending on the specific school and the applicant's nationality. Expat families can expect applications to include required official documents, assessment tests, and potentially even interviews. It's important to note that international schooling generally comes with a higher tuition fee compared to local Turkish schools. However, many expat families consider the cost worthwhile, given the advantages of a global curriculum, multilingual education, and broader cultural exposure.

Turkish Schools: Public, Private, and 'Anatolian'

Expat families may also consider enrolling their children in local Turkish schools, which include public and private options. Public schools offer free education for children of all nationalities, following a standardized curriculum set by the Ministry of National Education. As the language of instruction at public schools is predominantly Turkish, these schools might be more suitable for families intent on immersing themselves in Turkey's language and culture.

Private schools, on the other hand, often have more flexibility in designing their curriculums and boast better facilities, smaller class sizes, and a wider range of extracurricular activities. Although they follow the national curriculum, some private schools integrate aspects of international education, offering a more diverse and global learning experience.

An increasingly popular choice for bilingual education in Turkey are 'Anatolian' schools, previously known as 'Anadolu Lisesi'. These are public schools offering a curriculum focused on foreign language education, with some subjects taught in languages such as English, German, or French. Admission to these competitive schools typically requires passing a nationwide entrance exam.

University Education

Higher education in Turkey attracts both Turkish and international students, with over 200 universities spread across the country. Public universities usually charge lower tuition fees compared to private ones, but admission tends to be more competitive, with both national and international students required to pass an entrance examination.

Some well-respected and popular universities in Turkey include the Middle East Technical University, Bosphorus University, Hacettepe University, and Koç University. Many universities offer a diverse array of undergraduate and postgraduate programs, while some also have partnerships with institutions in other countries to facilitate joint degrees or exchange programs.

Recognition and Equivalency

An essential component of the Turkish education system is the recognition and equivalency of foreign qualifications. Turkey is party to various international agreements that facilitate recognition of foreign qualifications, making it easier for expats to equate their academic credentials with their Turkish counterparts. Simultaneously, Turkish qualifications, particularly from accredited universities, are often recognized globally, aiding ex-pats in their academic and professional pursuits beyond Turkey.

Tips for Expat Parents

To ensure a smooth educational journey for their children in Turkey, ex-pat parents should keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Language Considerations: Assess your child's language proficiency and preferences when selecting an educational institution. For non-Turkish speaking children, international schools or Anatolian schools may offer a more accessible learning environment.
  2. Cultural Acclimatization: Encourage your child to embrace the cultural aspects of Turkish life, such as participating in local festivals, attending language classes, or joining clubs to help them integrate into their new surroundings.
  3. Academic Transition: Be supportive during your child's academic transition, understanding that adjusting to a new education system may require extra time, patience, and assistance.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the Turkish education system can be a challenging but rewarding experience for expat families, as it opens doors to various educational choices catering to specific needs and preferences. By staying informed about the fundamental structure, educational options, and cultural nuances of the Turkish system, expat parents can set their children up for a fulfilling and enriching learning journey in Turkey.

As always, Ikamet's team remains a valuable resource to guide and support, facilitating a smooth educational transition for expat families. Contact us today for a discussion with our residency advisor in Turkey!