Students in Turkey learn handwriting beginning from Grade 1, using a model called Dik temel yazı, which is upright, unjoined and geometric, based on the “ball and stick” style. It was introduced in 2017, replacing a cursive first approach.
In Turkey, the Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, or Ministry of National Education (MEB), is responsible for the administration of education, including the design of curricula.
The education system is divided into the following levels: early childhood (0–~5 years old); primary (6–9 years old), lower secondary (10–13 years old); upper secondary (14–17 years old), and higher education. Of these, primary and secondary levels have been compulsory since 2012. They fall under the purview of the General Directorate of Basic Education of the MEB, along with early childhood education. Primary and secondary education is state-funded, and offered free of charge. While fee-charging private schools also exist, they also fall under the charge of the MEB, and have no curricular freedom.
The Department of Programs and Teaching Materials of the MEB carries out research and development of the curriculum, as well as produces textbooks, workbooks, guidebooks for teachers, and training materials in line with national education policies and strategies. These resources are made available on the website of the General Directorate of Basic Education.
Handwriting education is addressed mainly in the Türkçe Dersi̇ Öğreti̇m Programi, or Turkish Educational Program, which was published by the MEB in 2019. It outlines that students should begin learning handwriting in Grade 1, starting with motor skills involving basic strokes, followed by uppercase and then lowercase letters. The program illustrates the prescribed handwriting model for this, known as dik temel yazı, or basic vertical writing. Dik temel yazı consists of upright, unjoined letters in a geometric style, which are based on “ball and stick” models. Additionally, the document provides information about correct posture and the way to hold the pencil. Finally, it mentions that cursive writing can be optionally taught from Grade 3, however no cursive handwriting model is suggested.
The MEB publishes three volumes of a handwriting textbook based on this approach called İlk Okuma Ve Yazma Çalişma Ki̇tabi (2020), or First Read and Write Workbook, by Akile AVCI, Berna Argün and Güldeniz Çelik. These are used in most Turkish schools.
The method of handwriting instruction described above came into effect in 2017. It replaced the French model of “cursive first” handwriting education that was introduced in 2005.
Discontinuation of cursive first instruction
Dik temel yazı was officially implemented in Turkish primary schools in 2017, breaking away with the years-long tradition of cursive handwriting education. This may appear an abrupt change of government policy in the area of literacy, but it is hardly the first one or the most important. In 1928, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish War of Independence, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s government undertook a series of important reforms in the country. One of them was the adoption of the Latin alphabet, and a stop to the use of the Ottoman Turkish alphabet, a variant of Arabic.
The selection of Latin and subsequent literacy efforts were an attempt to distance Turkey from Arabic and its inherent relationship with Islam, and to bring it closer to Europe instead, which was viewed as more modern. As a result, the usage of writing models that traced their origins to Europe and were fashionable in the West was a natural step. Palmer Business Writing, Zaner-Bloser, and later, D’Nealian were all favoured in Turkey. The latter two advocated for their simultaneous teaching of cursive and a variant of unjoined letters.
Different styles of sloped continuous cursive writing were part of primary school education for nearly all of Turkey’s history. According to Prof. Namık Kemal Sarikavak of Hacettepe University, in the 1980s there was a visible decline in handwriting for a range of reasons: from social and political developments to the influence of technology, in particular typing.
In 2005, the Turkish government adopted the cursive first model of instruction that had been successfully employed in France and parts of North America. This method proposed that students learn only cursive handwriting, as opposite to transitioning from print to cursive letters in second or third grade. The decision was taken without public consultation, and it faced criticism and complaints from students, parents and especially teachers, who were unprepared for such change.
After twelve years, the MEB repealed cursive first handwriting education and recommended teaching unjoined vertical letters instead. This decision was taken after public polls that showed that 99.3% participants were against cursive writing instruction.