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Expat children are able to attend Turkish public schools, but the standard of education varies. And as Turkish is the language of instruction at all public schools, most expat parents choose to send their children to private or international schools instead.
Public schools in Turkey
Education in Turkey is compulsory for all children from primary through to secondary school. Primary and secondary education in public schools is free to all children, including Turkish nationals and foreigners.
High school education in Turkey is comprised of different branches, including general, vocational and technical schools, with each having a different educational focus. Upon finishing their secondary education, students are awarded the Lise Diplomasi (Secondary School Diploma), which secures the right to partake in nationwide exams for university entry.
The language of instruction at public schools is Turkish, but all children are required to learn a foreign language. Language choices are typically either English, German, Spanish or French.
The school day is generally made up of a morning and afternoon session, with the school week running from Monday to Friday. The academic year in Turkey generally runs from mid-September through to early June and is divided into two semesters.
Private schools in Turkey
Private schools in Turkey follow the Turkish national curriculum, with the language of instruction being Turkish. Some of the more prestigious private schools offer bilingual education.
Expat children wanting to attend a private school in Turkey will have to undergo a general exam to determine their level of competency.
International schools in Turkey
Most international schools are based in Ankara and Istanbul. These schools cover various international curricula and teach in several foreign languages, including English, German and French.
Spaces are often limited at international schools in Turkey. This is particularly true in Ankara, which has a large diplomatic community owing to the number of foreign embassies in the city. Expat parents will therefore need to plan well ahead to secure a spot for their child.
Most international schools offer students the opportunity to learn the Turkish language. They also have field trips and cultural activities to assist children to assimilate better into Turkish culture and society.
Tuition at private and international schools is very expensive. It is important to factor this into one's contract when negotiating a package for relocation to Turkey.
Homeschooling in Turkey
Homeschooling is considered illegal in Turkey. A loophole that some expat parents use is that this law specifically refers to Turkish children, and foreigners therefore tend to have some success with homeschooling. That said, parents of children with dual Turkish citizenship will have to follow the law or face hefty fines or, in extreme cases, imprisonment.
Tutors in Turkey
Receiving private tutoring in Turkey while preparing for a national examination is common. Due to high competition to get into elite high schools and universities, most children will receive tutoring at some point during their scholastic career.
There are three forms of private tutoring in Turkey. The first, and most expensive, is one-on-one tutoring. This is usually done by an accomplished university student or a retired teacher. These tutors usually guarantee excellent results and therefore charge high prices.
The second kind of tutoring takes place on the school premises. Tutoring is offered outside of normal class hours by volunteer teachers. This form of tutoring is usually organised by the school board.
Finally, the most popular form of tutoring is provided by private tutoring centres (dershane). These centres act like private schools with professional teachers. Students first complete an entrance test and are placed into classes according to their results. These schools charge a monthly fee and can be expensive.
Special-needs education in Turkey
The Turkish government has a policy to keep disabled children in mainstream classes as far as possible.
Many international schools in Turkey offer special-needs education, but the type of support offered varies from school to school. Some schools offer assistance with only mild learning difficulties while others will have more extensive support systems designed to deal with a range of needs.
The British International School in Istanbul is one international school that offers special needs support throughout their primary and secondary departments.
Istanbul has also opened a special education and training school, called HAYPADER Special Education Practice School, that offers equal opportunities in education to children with disabilities. This school also offers scholarships for children from low income families.
Expat parents looking for special-needs education should be sure to research schools before relocating to Turkey. The ideal is to find the best fit between the school and the child – one that can meet their particular needs and has the right experience and resources. Parents could contact the Guidance Study Centre in the area they will be living in.
The Guidance Study Centre evaluates children’s physical abilities, personal development and academic competences. The centre then provides recommendations on education options. It also gives the family guidance and counselling on the care and treatment of a child with special needs.
►See International Schools in Istanbul for a list of private international schools in the city.
►Read Healthcare in Turkey for information about medical care in the country.
"There are a vast array of schools available in the main cities, offering a variety of curricula, ethos and academic qualifications. Do your homework! Visit different schools, meet the teachers and students, talk to other parents, look at their results, analyse the costs (including hidden ones!) and look at what afterschool activities they offer. Are the English teachers native English speakers? This is important!
I worked at a bilingual, International Baccalaureate school in Ankara. This school is the perfect place for children of Turkish/International parents as it offers a broad, balanced curriculum and a global education in both Turkish and English. However, it doesn’t come cheap.
I think a child’s education is more than just schooling. If a parent provides exciting, educational opportunities (visits to museums, sports and creative activities, holidays to other countries, love of books/reading) outside of school, a mediocre education in an average school can be sufficiently supplemented. My main criticism of state schools is their reliance on politically driven textbooks and their obsession with homework!" Read more about Faye and her experience of expat life in Turkey.
Are you an expat living in Turkey?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Turkey. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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