The new education system in Turkey – making pilots out of religious school graduates?

By Percin Imrek | 7 September 2012

To quote this document: Percin Imrek, “The new education system in Turkey – making pilots out of religious school graduates?”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Friday 7 September 2012,, displayed on 24 March 2023

"The new education system in Turkey –making pilots out of religious school graduates?" This was a comment that a blogger put on his page, after the new education system (4+4+4) entered into force following the decision made by the currently ruling party in Turkey, the AKP (Justice and Development Party). He was expressing his concern over the conservative AKP, notably the fact that they favour the students who study in religious schools. And the new system will only help them, but no one else.

The old system versus the new system

For starters; the universities in Turkey are generally consisted of two types: the vocational two-year universities, which are hardly accepted as universities by many (by graduating from those, you still are considered as a high school graduate in the eyes of the military, hence the full 15 months of conscription, not the 5 months that are designed for the university students) and the full four-year ones (apart from studies such as medicine, law etc...). Turkey has not  implemented yet the Bologna process, even though it has started to work upon its implementation and integration (a few universities in Turkey have already started to have the 3+2 Bologna system)

The new education system, that is also called the 4+4+4, consists of 12 years of mandatory education system, in which the students will be given more chances/opportunities to select their fields of specialization earlier - this field determining what they will study at the university. The difference between the old system and the new one is that the former consisted of the 5+3+4 system, in which the students could choose their fields later than the new one. The high school is of great importance insofar as it helps determine the future choice of studies at the university. Students already have to choose between different domains in high school (sciences, literature, languages etc...) As an example, if you major in sciences in high school and apply for the ‘English Language and Literature’ department at the university, your chances are much slimmer than if you had applied for ‘Maths’.

This is very important for the students, since there is a lot of demand and only few places to get into a good university, and every point that you get from the university exam counts. The centralized exam for the university admissions happens once per year. So being sick on the test day postpones for one year the taking of the examination.

The pros and cons of the new system

Now that the new system of 4+4+4 has been implemented on 12 April 2012, there is no need to speak about the old system anymore. Instead, we can have a look at the concerns that the new system brings.

First of all many people are concerned that the students will choose their fields too young, at an age where they cannot make well-thought-out decisions for their future. The system is also criticized insofar as it pushes students to attend vocational schools, being consequently less ‘educated’. Another criticism is that this system will favour religious high school students, who will be free to apply for any department at the universities, whereas this was not possible before. This is a big concern for many people, since many of them accuse the AKP government of trying to bring ‘Islamism’ to the secular Turkey. One of the interesting criticitisms deals with the EU and the USA: people accuse the government of implementing this policy solely because of the ‘funds’ that come from the EU and the 'pressure' made by the USA. This means that some people blame the EU and USA for using their financial powers on Turkey, by telling them what to do in their education system, with the threat of pulling out their funding in case Turkey does not do what it is told.

Even though this is a one-party government, there are three other parties that have seats in Parliament in Turkey. Let’s have a look at what they think about the new system.

The other two big parties CHP (Republican People's Party) and MHP (Nationalist People's Party) that have seats in Parliament do not publicly reject this proposal, but they unofficially do it. They argued a lot to ‘put it on hold’, so it could be ‘thoroughly discussed and evaluated’. One MP from the MHP (Nationalistic Movement Party) said ‘If we politicize this topic, we will put a bullet on our foot’, meaning that the topic of education should never be politicized. However, an MP from the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), which is a party that ‘represents’ the Kurdish minority in Turkey, said ‘If you reject one of your main languages (Kurdish), one day you will not be able to find an MP like Kaplan (his name)’

Many people that are pro the new education system blame the others for being antagonistic and for wanting to keep the ’28 February Coup’ laws: after the religious Prosperity Party (Refah Partisi) won the elections in 1997, the national security council had a meeting on 28 February, and ended up with the decision to over throw the Prosperity Party. This decision taken during this meeting was also named as the ’post-modern coup’. The previous education system was adopted after the meeting on 28 February 1997 and was highly against any Islamist movement or any system that could foster it.

Good or not, there are some substantive changes that the new system brings. The most remarkable one is that the period of compulsory education will be increased from 8 to 12 years. Another change concerns the starting age for the children. With the new system, children can start primary school at the age of five. Even though this system is accused of being sexist (because of the increase of students in vocational schools, that generally male students prefer), by preventing female population from working, others say that this system will help the girls with ‘headscarfs’ to be more integrated at school and in the working life.

It is clear that the new system is favoured by the government and their supporters, and disliked by the opposition and their supporters. It is easy to find convincing arguments from both sides. What can be said for sure is that there is a clear difference between the previous system, and the new one. What is not sure, is how this system will work, whether this is a conspiracy to make Turkey more religious, or just a good-willed law to develop Turkey’s education system.

I guess time will show...

To go further

On Nouvelle Europe

Featured this month: Education et Formation en Europe

To read


  • Aye Gul Altinay, The Myth of the Military-Nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey, Palgrave MacMillan, 2004.
  • Arnd-Michael Nohl (Editor), Arzu Akkoyunlu-Wigley (Editor), Simon Wigley (Editor), Education in Turkey, European Studies in Education, vol.26, Waxmann, Germany, 2008.

On the Internet

Photo: Boys sitting outside their school during lunch break., by World Bank on flickr.