politics : culture : economics

Learning not to trust? The OECD on Turkish education

In Society, Turkey on September 28, 2010 at 3:20 am

Earlier this month, the OECD published its latest annual survey of educational developments across its 31 member countries, Education at a Glance 2010. There are many gaps in the data relating to Turkey, but the picture that emerges is a familiar one: gradual improvement from a very, very low base. Less familiar are numbers relating to politics and trust, which I’ll come to shortly.

A broad sense of how far Turkey lags behind in terms of education can be gleaned from a key statistic outlining differentials in the duration of the schooling that’s provided to children across the OECD. In each country, the OECD assesses how many years of formal education 90 per cent of children can be said to receive. Across the 31 countries, the average is 13 years. In Turkey it’s just seven years. This is the lowest figure in the OECD; it doesn’t even meet the eight years of schooling that’s supposed to be required by law in Turkey.

To be fair, Turkey is not alone in falling short of its own legal requirements on length of schooling. But it is alone among all the OECD members in languishing in single digits—the second-worst country in the rankings (Chile) provides fully three more years of formal education to its children than Turkey does.


Among the indicators that the OECD tracks are a number that concern the impact of increased levels of education on various social outcomes. These include individuals’ interest in politics and the extent of their interpersonal trust, two metrics which seem unusually apt at the moment given Turkey’s current complicated and polarised political predicament.

Across the OECD, interest in politics increases with educational attainment. As you can see in the table below, the same basic pattern is followed in Turkey. But at every stage in the educational process, Turks exhibit a greater interest in politics than their peers. This is particularly true at upper secondary level where the Turkish figure of 61 per cent is well above the OECD average of 47 per cent.

Table 1: Proportion of adults expressing an interest in politics, by level of education
Below upper secondary Upper secondary Tertiary
OECD average 34% 47% 63%
Turkey 39% 61% 65%

Source: OECD, Education at a Glance 2010

The divergence between Turkish and OECD-wide levels of interpersonal trust is starker still. Respondents were asked to place themselves on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means “You can’t be too careful” and 10 means “Most people can be trusted”. The table below shows the proportions that responded in the range 6-10, again separated into the three key levels of educational attainment.

Table 2: Proportion of adults expressing interpersonal trust, by level of education
Below upper secondary Upper secondary Tertiary
OECD average 34% 42% 53%
Turkey 16% 12% 12%

Source: OECD, Education at a Glance 2010

Two things jump out here. First, Turkey’s levels of interpersonal trust are way below the OECD averages. This is particularly true at the tertiary level of educational attainment, where Turks are more than four times less likely than their peers to be trusting of others. Second, the more educated an individual in Turkey becomes, the less trust they feel towards others. Among the 20 countries covered by this indicator, Turkey is pretty much unique in displaying this pattern of decreasing trust. (Sweden shows a one-point drop, but at the much higher levels of trust that characterise the Nordic countries.)

Combined, these last two statistics make for interesting reading: a higher-than-average interest in politics and a much lower-than-average level of trust. Is it any wonder that Turkish public life is replete with plots and conspiracy theories?

  1. […] ranks 97th on interpersonal trust (this is something I’ve touched on before), charitable donations and […]

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