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6.4 Access to education

Primary education: Although primary education has been compulsory and free since 1924, there were always some children – especially girls in conservative, underdeveloped regions and rural areas – who never attended, or who failed to complete, primary school for reasons such as economic difficulties, child labour, distance to school, discouragement, family neglect, discrimination and social restrictions against girls. After compulsory primary education was extended to eight years in 1997, a major effort got under way to ensure 100% net enrolment among both boys and girls. The Girls’ Education campaign conducted by the Ministry of National Education with the support of UNICEF from 2003 onwards secured the enrolment of 230,000 girls and 100,000 boys who had previously been out of primary school. Parents not sending their children to school were actively sought out and persuaded with the support of other sectors and community leaders. A major programme of school building got under way, supported by the World Bank, and by private donors benefiting from tax breaks. Conditional cash transfers (CCT) started to be provided to poor parents sending their children to primary school. Payments were made to mothers and the amount paid for girls was increased. There is widespread acknowledgement in government and civil society of the benefits of CCTs, despite some criticism that the conditionality is not effectively monitored. Textbooks were made free of charge and in some cases, free school transport and meals were provided. Where necessary, all available spaces were used as classrooms. Regional boarding schools were used as a way of enabling girls from small villages to complete their primary education. The private sector, media and civil society organisations ran campaigns and projects of their own. Later, the opportunity provided by the spread of modern technology and the development of an Address-Based Population Registry System and the e-school database was seized to improve the monitoring of children’s enrolment in school. Education officials and schools were made responsible for ensuring the enrolment of all girls and boys in their provinces, districts or catchment areas.  With EU and UNICEF support, an accelerated learning programme (also known as “catch-up education”) was developed to enable children in the 10-14 age group who had either never been enrolled, or who had already been out of school for long periods, to return to the education system and study alongside children of their own ages. The programme, which was introduced in the 2008-9 school year, reaches out to girls and boys from some of the most disadvantaged social groups from girls in remote villages to urban Roma children and other children, including disabled children, with impoverished family backgrounds. 31,000 children have been reached so far. The success of the programme depends not only on commitment and resources but on an ability to respond rapidly to difficulties which these children may have in adapting to the school environment and vice-versa (Catch-Up Education Programme Mid-Term Review Report for the Ministry of National Education, the EU and UNICEF by Education Reform Initiative – ERG – at http://erg.sabanciuniv.edu/sites/erg.sabanciuniv.edu/files/YSOP_MidtermReview_EN_14122011_FINAL.pdf ). All these efforts coincided with demographic and social trends broadly favourable to school participation by children, such as urbanisation, declining fertility and economic growth and modernisation.

By the 2011-2012 school year, net primary school enrolment stood at 98.67%, according to Ministry of National Education Formal Education Statistics. The gender gap in net primary school enrolment had almost closed, with 98.77% for boys and 98.56% for girls. Among the children not enrolled, many were known to be later starters – children whose parents are not well informed about the mandatory starting age, or who take the option of postponing the child’s entry into primary education for a year on the grounds that he or she is not ready for school (The Ministry of National Education has introduced an automatic enrolment system in order to address this issue). Some children of primary school age were also understood to be attending secondary school. It is nevertheless still too early to say that 100% primary school participation has been achieved. Some girls still drop out in the upper grades of primary education due to a combination of poverty and conservative social norms, low expectations and domestic responsibilities. Only 90.5 girls graduated from primary education for every 100 boys in 2011, according to Ministry of National Education Formal Education Statistics, whereas there were 94.9 girls for every 100 boys in the end-year population aged 10-14, according to the official population data (Address-Based Population Registry System). The extent of this problem varies considerably by province and region. Other children do not attend school regularly for various reasons ranging from the use of child labour in agriculture to discouragement or the adaption problems experienced by children with backgrounds which in the past might have kept them out of school altogether. On average, primary school students were absent without excuse for eight days in the 2010-11 school year. Non-attendance increased noticeably between 2007 and 2011. It is commonest in the higher grades, among poor students, in Eastern regions, among boys (in most regions), in urban areas and among children with below-average school performance. (Disaggregated data on school attendance is not made public but the phenomenon has been analysed by the Education Reform Initiative – ERG). The Ministry of National Education has developed a Non-Attendance Management Model which obliges schools to identify the risks of non-attendance and to monitor and respond to non-attendance, and which guides the actions they take. Provincial education officials are also expected to act on the data collected. Commitment to implement this model is one of the preconditions for tackling the problem of children out of school. Meanwhile, there is anecdotal evidence that some children are not enrolled in school, and do not appear in the statistics altogether, due to lack of birth registration.

The reduction in the primary school starting age as part of the restructuring of the education system adopted by Parliament in March 2012 is likely to affect the figures for access to education, particularly as there is already a problem of late starting. Concern has also been expressed that the division of primary education into two phases of four years each - which will normally be provided in separate schools – will exacerbate the phenomenon of non-completion of primary education among girls by allowing them to drop out more easily.


Source: Ministry of National Education, Formal Education Statistics, 2011-12



Secondary education: Enrolment in secondary education (grades 9-12 of the education system) has been increasing quite rapidly, in line with demographic, economic and social changes, but remains well below the level of developed countries. Within the last decade, the net enrolment rate has increased from under 50% to almost 70%. In the 2011-12 school year, this rate was 67.37%, according to the Ministry of National Education Formal Education Statistics, while the gross enrolment rate was 92.56%. The large discrepancy between the net and gross rates suggests that many children continue their education with a delay, due to interruptions or failure to pass classes, as well as extra preparatory years in the curricula of some secondary schools. Net secondary school enrolment is 80-90% in many provinces in western Turkey, but falls to 30-40% in some relatively rural Eastern provinces. Poverty, the need for children to earn income or work in the home, and gender discrimination are important determinants of enrolment in secondary education. The quantity and quality of provision may also be influential. In the 2011-2012 school year, the gender disparity narrowed, so that net enrolment was 66.14% among girls compared to 68.53% among boys (For gross enrolment, the figures were 95.68% and 89.26%, respectively). In some of the richer and western provinces, girls’ net enrolment is even higher than boys’, whereas the gender gap in favour of boys remains substantial in many eastern and central provinces. Children from large families, children of parents with low incomes and low levels of education, children who have not performed well at primary school or not attended regularly, and children who have attended regional primary boarding schools are among those least likely to make the transition to secondary education despite completing primary education. Non-attendance and drop-out rates in secondary education are understood to be very high: over 40% of students do not attend for 20 days or more within each school year, and about 8% officially drop out. Net enrolment in secondary education can be expected to go on increasing over the coming four years, because secondary education has been made compulsory as part of the restructuring of the education system in March 2012. However, it will require a great effort to achieve 100% net enrolment and to combat non-attendance and non-completion. A mechanism for non-attendance management may need to be implemented, similar to the model developed for primary education, and continuous analysis of causes and trends will be required.

 Net school enrolment (%) in selected large provinces, 2010-11
































































Source: Ministry of National Education Formal Education Statistics, 2011-12

New approaches to Out Of School Children: Turkey is one of 25 countries which have been taking part in the global initiative on Out-Of-School Children (OOSC) jointly coordinated by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics since 2010 (For more information, see http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/files/Final_OOSC_Flyer.pdf). The initiative takes a broad view of the phenomenon of children’s non-participation in education beginning from the age of five and incorporating children who are not enrolled in school (whether permanently or temporarily), enrolled late, enrolled but not attending, frequently absent and/or falling significantly behind in their performance and therefore at risk of not completing their education. This is referred to as the “five dimensions of exclusion” or “5DE”. In view of the apparent trade-off between high rates of school enrolment and low rates of attendance - as well as the high incidence of class repetition in some provinces – this conceptual approach appears well suited to Turkey’s experiences and may open up new perspectives for the setting of goals and the measurement of progress.

Although the OOSC initiative has so far mainly addressed basic education, a similar approach, aiming to identify and support girls and boys depending on the level and nature of the risk that they will not benefit equitably from the education system, might also be appropriate at secondary level. The OOSC study is now to be carried out for upper secondary level (corresponding to the secondary level in Turkey), and Turkey is to take part in the research. This is a sign of the commitment of the Ministry of National Education to improve the current situation in Turkey.

Five Dimensions of Exclusion (5DE) from the Out-Of-School Children Initiative

Dimension 1 – 5 year-olds not in pre-primary school

Dimension 2 – 6-10 year-olds not at school (attended, dropped out/will never enter/will enter late)

Dimension 3 - 11-13 year-olds not at school (attended, dropped out/will never enter/will enter late)

Dimension 4 – 1st -5th grade students at risk of dropping out

Dimension 5 -  6th to 8th grade students at risk of dropping out

Research carried out as the first stage of the OOSC initiative has adopted a conceptual approach which focuses more systematically than Turkey has done to date not only on the numbers of children - or girls – who are missing out on school, and on national systems for monitoring and intervening, but also on the backgrounds of these children, the barriers preventing their participation in school and the measures which need to be taken to address these causal factors. The forthcoming country report on Turkey includes estimates of the numbers of children who are out of school, who will never enrol, who have already dropped out, and who will drop out before graduating. Profiling the children who are out of school, it finds that “Children who live in rural areas, in provinces in the East Region, which includes the Southeastern Anatolia, Central Eastern Anatolia, and Northeastern Anatolia regions of the NUTS-1, and in low-income households are more likely to be out-of-school. Additionally, children whose parental education is low and whose first language is Kurdish – particularly when the mother cannot speak Turkish – are more likely to be out-of-school. According to Child Labour Survey data, working children are more likely to be out-of-school than non-working children. In all these groups, girls are more likely to be out-of-schools than boys…. Some sub-groups of out-of-school children are: unregistered children; children with special educational needs; children with chronic illnesses or who require long-term treatment; Roma children; children who are married off and/or become pregnant; children who are asylum seekers, refugees and foreign migrants; internally displaced, domestic migrant and nomadic children; children who are in contact with the law.” The report also finds that children who are in school but at risk of being excluded from education have much the same characteristics. “Issues that stand out regarding the risk of exclusion from education are absenteeism and being behind peers in terms of progression in school, mostly as a result of legislation regulating a maximum age for attending a basic education school. As a result, children who are late-entrants, who do not attend school for long periods due to health-related or other reasons or who repeat grades are more likely to be excluded from education,” the report notes.

Among the “barriers and bottlenecks” identified by the report as causing exclusion from education are: gender and disability-related values, poverty and child labour, weakening of community ties due to migration, long periods of illness (of the child or another family member), and traumatic experiences (of crime, violence or sexual abuse). Various aspects of schools and the education system may also discourage school participation among disadvantaged groups, the report says. These include distances between school and home, problems with bussing and the boarding education provided in rural areas, crowded classrooms, the numbers, quality and training of teachers, violence and corporal punishment, poor access of children with disabilities, insufficient participation and transparency, administrative regulations related to enrolment, absenteeism and maximum age, and the lack of resources  available at the school-level for taking measures to mitigate a child’s risk of exclusion from education. A child’s non-participation in education is usually the consequence of several of these factors combined.

The forthcoming OOSC country report acknowledges that government action in various areas has helped to improve school enrolment and attendance. As further steps, it, recommends that many existing policies and systems should be continued and strengthened. It argues for improvements in many areas of school quality. Its numerous recommendations also include: expanding free preschool services for children from poor households and for disabled children; implementing targeted special interventions for different groups including Roma children, nomadic children, refugee, asylum-seeker, migrant and displaced children, and children in seasonal agricultural work; evaluating alternatives to current access models in rural areas; strengthening gender equality in educational management; considering a more flexible school calendar reflecting local conditions; strengthening teacher capacity for mainstreaming education and for teaching in situations where the language of education is different from the child’s first language; reinvigorating efforts to eliminate violence from schools including corporal punishment, and revising certain administrative regulations – for example, concerning the enrolment of foreign children and children without birth registration. Among the many areas in which the report recommends additional research are: the impact on exclusion from education of socio-cultural values with respect to disability and education; figures and educational needs of children of foreign migrants living in Turkey with or without permission; educational needs of children who are in contact with the law; quantitative and qualitative studies on the educational needs of Roma children; child labour and out-of-school children; school-family unions; children’s experiences of violence inside and outside school; availability of drinking water, running water, electricity, and toilets in schools, and studies on the incidence and causes of drop out with a focus on age 11 and girls.

A drawback of the OOSC country report is that it is partly based on data from the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey and therefore does not fully reflect the developments of the last four years, and will need updating. However, the report’s profile of the children who are out of school may still be valid to a large extent. Meanwhile, the case is made strongly for a strategy which includes policies tailored to ensuring school participation among certain groups of children and to tackling specific barriers which prevent girls and boys from benefiting from their right to education. It is abundantly clear that efforts to increase school enrolment and regular attendance need to involve many actors both within the education system and beyond it. Regional development policies, social assistance, social services, policies for the disabled, policies against child labour and policies against discrimination all have a role to play. Conversely, participation in school is one of the most important indicators of social inclusion and equity for all children.

Education for Roma children

As in other fields, data on school participation is never disaggregated by ethnic group in Turkey. This makes it impossible to state the level of non-enrolment, late enrolment, irregular attendance or early drop-out among Roma children - or to monitor any improvement or deterioration over time. However, during the Girls’ Education Campaign, Catch-Up Education and similar projects, campaigns and initiatives, it has become clear that children from Roma and similar communities are among those with the lowest school participation. In addition, those who attend school have been observed to have a high probability of under-performing their peers and failing to complete their education. These impressions are in line with the findings of a 2008 study (Marsh et.al.: “Eşitsiz Vatandaşlık: Türkiye Çingenelerinin Karşılaştığı Hak İhlalleri [Unequal Citizenship: Right Violations facing Gypsies of Turkey]) cited in the forthcoming country report on Out Of School Children. Factors which contribute to non-participation in education among the Roma include poverty, child labour, early marriage (for girls and boys), Roma communities’ wariness of public authorities, their lack of experience of the benefits of formal education, and discrimination. Some children from these communities may still lack birth registration, and schools in Roma neighbourhoods may not be well staffed and equipped. Schools and teachers may have low expectations of Roma children, and Roma children and their families may have difficulty adapting to school rules and routine. The partially nomadic lifestyles of some communities and the housing issues which they face may also affect the regular attendance of girls and boys from these communities and increase the probability of dropping out. Yet ensuring Roma participation in education is important not only for the right to education but also the other economic and social rights of these often-disadvantaged children and their communities. The Prime Minister has in recent years spoken of an “opening” to the Roma population, and in 2010-2011 the Ministry of National Education developed an action plan to mitigate the risk of exclusion from education for Roma children. More recently, however, the commitment of the authorities appears to have waned, and no policies, targeted interventions or action plans have yet been developed. 



UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org