It is well known that becoming an economically developed country requires a well-educated and skilled labor force. Nevertheless, because of its history of backwardness in education, Turkey cannot boast of this human capital. The average person has undergone less than seven years of formal schooling, while in South Korea this average is close to 12 years. The quality of education in Turkey is as low as the average quantity. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an exam determining the quality of secondary education world-wide, rates the quality of Turkish education as poor, slightly better than that in Mexico, while South Korea is ranked among the top three countries. I am comparing Turkey to South Korea because the two were ranked equally in terms of education and per capita income in the 1960s. Today, South Korea’s per capita income is $30,000, while Turkey’s is just over $10,000.
Turkey undoubtedly needs to rapidly increase the average amount of schooling its young people receive, as well as its quality of education. The first step would be to enroll as many young people as possible in high school. Unfortunately, Turkey appears far from this goal.
Household Labor Survey data from 2013 reveals that out of 6.2 million individuals aged between 15 and 19 years, approximately 2.2 million (8.2 percent of the total population) are not in school. Young men constitute 1.078 million and young women 1.114 million of this school-aged population. Roughly three-fourths of these individuals have not earned their high school degree. Out of this 2.2 million, 704,000 men and 312,000 women who are not continuing their education are currently working or looking for a job, while 422,000 men and 193,000 women are working as well as pursuing their education.
More worryingly, out of these 2.2 million school-age individuals, 948,000 are neither in school nor participating in the labor force. Women represent 688,000 of this number, and men 260,000. Among women aged 15 to 19 who have a low level of education, 23 percent are already out of labor force. In a country like Turkey that suffers from a very low rate of female participation in the workforce — 30 percent — the fact that a significant number of young women are neither at work nor in school does not bode well for the country’s hopes to catch up to global standards of education.
When we look closely at the reasons that these young people aren’t being educated or joining the labor force, a key factor seems to be either the preference or pressure to remain home. Indeed, the vast majority of these young women (510,000 out of the 688,000) say that they are occupied by housework, or by caring for children or disabled people in their communities. Among men and women, 90,000 don’t seek employment because they believe they will be unable to find it. They constitute the so-called “discouraged population.” A remaining 96,000 declare that they are not looking for work for other reasons related to family.
It is worth remembering that 12 years of mandatory education is very recent in Turkey, introduced at the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Will this rule encourage young people to further their education? BETAM appears to answer a cautious “yes.” Indeed, when the figures of 2012 are compared to those of 2013, we see a slight improvement; the share of young women in high school increased from 53.8 percent to 60.7 percent, and the same set of young men increased from 51.7 percent to 56.6 percent.
Still, making 12 years of education mandatory for young people will not solve the problem of weak schooling.
BETAM also compared official enrollment figures from the Education Ministry with those of the Household Labor Force Surveys for individuals aged between 14 and 17 years. The Ministry of Education claims that Turkey has an enrollment rate of 76 percent, while the Household Labor Force Surveys estimate a rate of only 65 percent. Obviously, some young people are registered in high school but prefer, or are obliged, to stay out.