Though there have been marked improvements across Turkey's educational infrastructure, the system needs further investment and development to meet the growing demands being placed upon it by the market.
Education is the single biggest budgetary outlay for the national government, with allocations regularly topping 10% of total state expenditure. For the 2010 budget, which was placed before the parliament in mid-October for consideration, the National Education Ministry is to receive $19bn from the $193bn of planned expenditure. Next year's allocation for education is almost twice that of defence, and is well up on the $18.5bn set aside for 2009.
While this level of expenditure on education is commendable, the funding is spread somewhat thinly across the needs of more than 15m school students, 60,000 schools and the wages of over 700,000 teachers, administrators and ancillary staff.
Added to this are the costs of Turkey's higher and vocational educational facilities, with the country having just over 100 state universities and colleges, along with more than 25 private universities, the majority of which are concentrated in Istanbul.
In its most recent report on Turkey's progress towards meeting the EU's political and economic criteria for membership, the European Commission (EC) had both praise and criticism for the country's education system.
The report, released on October 14 and covering a 12-month period ending in mid-September, said that Turkey had continued to make progress in relation to the EU's common standards for education and training over the past year and had improved its performance in all benchmarked areas.
While highlighting some significant advances, the report also stressed that more needed to be done to improve the quality of the education system and ensure an equality of service provision across the country.
One area where praise was given was in the promotion of education for girls and the reduction of the gender gap in primary and secondary education. The report noted that, "Between 2007 and 2008, the gender gap in primary education has been halved to 1% and has decreased by a fifth to 4% in secondary education."
Though this is an achievement, the report does go on to say that there remains a high level of regional disparities in access to education, both for boys and girls, though far more for the latter.
"The good results on reducing the gender gap in primary education need to be sustained and improved, in particular by ensuring that girls continue to attend school and by identifying and addressing school drop-outs," the report said.
The report also gave a mixed review of Turkey's state-funded higher education system, which saw a further 23 new universities established in the period covered by the study. However, the EC cautioned that most of the recently set-up centres of learning lacked both proper facilities and teaching staff.
In many areas of Turkey, class sizes are well above the averages of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member states, while in some regions, especially away from the major population centres, infrastructure and teaching materials are often lacking.
According to Ýsmail Koncuk, the president of the Turkish Education Personnel Union, the new school year, which began in late September, saw a shortfall in funding.
"Only 2.5% of gross national product is allocated for education," Koncuk said in an interview with local press on October 2. "This is a very inadequate amount."
While wages and basic services are covered by allocations, many schools find that they have to plug the funding gap to meet costs for cleaning, maintenance and supplies by requiring donations from parents. Families may also be called on to pay administrative fees to ensure their child is enrolled in the school of their choice.
The country's education system is undergoing a period of rapid evolution, with authorities trying to improve standards and equip schools with electronic teaching aides such as computers. However, this laudable initiative can be undermined is some regions where schools often lack guaranteed connections to electricity, while a shortage of teachers trained in the use of new technology means at times such equipment remains underutilised.
Though Turkey has made great strides in recent years, it still has a long way to go before it can overcome decades of underinvestment in infrastructure, staff and equipment. Nevertheless, it is now in a better position to respond to the demands of a modern economy, advances in technology and the requirements of Ankara's push for European integration.