While expat children are allowed to attend public schools in Istanbul for free, most expat parents choose to send their children to international schools. This is due to the varying quality of public schooling and Turkish being the language of instruction.
Public schools in Istanbul
Education in Turkey is compulsory and free for all children from primary through to secondary school, but the standard of education varies across Turkey. Public schools in larger cities struggle with overcrowding, and in Istanbul, classes of between 50 and 60 students aren't uncommon.
Another problem expats face with public schools in Istanbul is the fact that Turkish is the language of instruction at all schools. This may make it almost impossible for older expat children, who don't already know the language, to adapt to the public schooling system. Therefore, most expat parents decide to send their children to a private or international school in Istanbul.
See Education and Schools in Turkey for more on the national education system.
International schools in Istanbul
International schools in Istanbul cater to various foreign nationalities. They offer a variety of international curricula and foreign-language instruction. Most international schools in Istanbul offer students the opportunity to learn Turkish while also organising field trips and cultural activities to assist children in assimilating into Turkish culture and society.
School fees in Istanbul are known to be high, and parents will find that these fees are accompanied by various additional expenses, such as school uniforms, textbooks, extracurricular activities and transport. Parents, therefore, need to budget carefully. If moving to Istanbul as part of a corporate relocation, expats should factor schooling costs into their contract negotiations before moving to Turkey.
Enrollment at international schools in Istanbul can be limited. It's essential to apply as soon as possible, especially if one's child is of primary school age. Most schools will post admission requirements and application procedures on their websites. In many cases, it's possible to begin the application process from abroad. This should be a priority for expat parents when planning the move to Turkey.
Read International Schools in Istanbul for more information on the top schools in the city.
Special-needs education in Turkey
The Turkish government has a policy to keep children with special needs in mainstream classes as far as possible.
A fair few international schools in Istanbul offer special-needs education, but the type of support offered varies between schools. The support levels in schools range from assisting students with mild learning challenges to those with more extensive needs.
The British International School is one international school that offers special-needs support throughout its primary and secondary departments, while MEF International School also caters for children with mild learning difficulties.
Children with special needs in Turkey are served by the HAYPADER Special Education Practice School Istanbul and Gülseren Özdemir Special Education School, which is the largest special-education school in Turkey. HAYPADER Special Education Practice School also offers scholarships for children from families with low incomes.
The Guidance and Research Centre in Istanbul supports parents of children living with disabilities by evaluating their physical, developmental and academic capabilities to recommend a school near their home that is best suited to their children's needs. It also gives the family guidance and counselling on the care and treatment of a child with special needs.
- Parents can visit the Ministry of Education's website to find out more about Guidance and Research Centres.
Tutors in Turkey
Receiving private tutoring in Istanbul while preparing for a national examination is common. Owing to the notoriously fierce competition to get into elite high schools and universities, most children will receive tutoring at some point during their schooling careers.
There are three forms of private tutoring in Istanbul. The first and costliest is one-on-one tutoring. This is usually done by an accomplished university student or a retired teacher. These tutors typically guarantee excellent results and therefore charge high prices.
The second type of tutoring takes place at school and is offered by volunteer teachers outside regular class hours. Usually, the school board will organise this form of tutoring.
Private tutoring centres (dershaneler) are the most popular and common form of tutoring in Istanbul. These centres act like private schools with professional teachers. Students first complete an entrance test to evaluate their current capabilities and are placed in classes based on their knowledge level. These schools charge a monthly fee and can be pricey.
►See Education and Schools in Turkey for a more comprehensive overview of the Turkish education system.
What do expats say about schools in Istanbul?
"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!" Read more about British expat Faye and her experience of expat life in Turkey.
Are you an expat living in Istanbul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Istanbul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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