Turkish education ministry reintroduces grade retention for high schoolers

Academic consultants and education union representatives weighed in on the Turkish Education Ministry’s reintroduction of grade repetition for high school students, warning the policy would not bolster success and could pull low-performing students out of secondary education. 

Gazete Duvar / Pelin Akdemir

Turkey’s Education Ministry reintroduced the grade repeating policy for high school students to begin in the fall. Accordingly, students who failed four or more out of nine subjects would be required to repeat the grade. 

This change would be phased in, initially affecting only 9th-grade students this year, and expanding to include 10th and 11th grades in subsequent years.

Repeating a grade due to insufficient academic performance had been part of Turkey's education system. In 2005, the decision for students with an end-of-year success score below 50 to repeat a grade was left to the Class Teachers' Board and parental approval. 

During the remote learning period of the 2020 pandemic, regulations were modified, and failing students were promoted to the next grade "conditionally."

The changes for the 2023-2024 academic year were announced in the Official Gazette on September 8, 2023. According to the new rules, high school students with an average score of 50 who failed no more than three out of nine subjects could move to the next grade on "probation," while those failing four or more subjects would repeat the grade. 

Education experts weighed in on the reasons and potential consequences of reintroducing grade repetition. Academic consultant Serkan Duru criticized the Education Ministry for not transparently sharing its reasons for the policy change, stating that the motives were unclear. 

"We can only speculate," Duru said, suggesting that the policy might be aimed at directing non-performing students towards other fields or addressing the issue of refugee students.

Duru argued that repeating a grade would not increase student success or motivation, noting the limited number of high schools available despite the high student potential in Turkey.

Kemal Irmak, President of the Education and Science Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen), contended that the grade repetition policy would negatively impact students by fostering a sense of failure. Irmak said, "This situation would make students feel inadequate and be perceived as failures by society. It is a result of a system that is selective, exclusionary, and does not bring out the unique characteristics of children."

Irmak advocated for a system that better directs students to high schools based on their abilities and offers diverse options.

Barış Dinga, President of the Student Parents’ Association (Veli-Der)’s Bursa branch, suggested that grade repetition could create a competitive environment. 

Dinga emphasized that each student’s potential and qualities should be developed, warning that the policy might push students towards private schools with no risk of repeating a grade or to vocational and religious high schools (İmam Hatip) with easier grade promotion.

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)