The Pisa Research Project shows Turkish schools’ performance falls below the OECD countries in reading, math and science. The tests focus on, amongst other things, higher order thinking skills and results give credence to criticisms levelled against the Turkish education system as being rote-learning orientated.

If the private school system is taken independently, then their results compare favourably with averages obtained across European countries. Otherwise said, it appears that the distribution of educational quality may be broader in Turkey, with a number of relatively poor performing schools, but also with a number of extremely high performing establishments.

The national testing system instituted at the end of Grade 8 increases the pressure on families to send their children to cram schools. The results of this exam decide the type of high school students can go to and thus may be a big determiner of their long-term chances of getting into a good university at the end of their high school education. University entrance is again based on a national exam, taken in two parts (TYT-AYT) at the end of Grade 12 by as many as 2.5 million school leavers.

With the demise of cram schools as a result of a change in government policy, many high schools are now incorporating ‘cram’ programs into the services they offer. This adds a dilemma for those wishing to focus on a more holistic and broader set of skills for students.

The curriculum challenge for schools such as the Özel Bilkent Schools is to develop students critical thinking skills, writing skills, ability to reflect and plan their own learning, as well as allow them to be successful in the national university entrance system. The schools need to develop students as mature, independent and positive contributors to the society in which they live, whilst at the same time providing the type of reflexes which will allow them access to good universities in Turkey. Unfortunately, the assessment system for entry into University does not generally favour skill-based, whole person development. Thus, a good school needs to develop a strategy which caters for both these aspirations, namely personal skills and intellectual development, and, at the same time, knowledge-based examination success. The authorization as an IB World Continuum School has been an important part of our strategy in meeting these dual goals.