Gamze and I were sharing what we already know about refugee education in Turkey. Although we have lived in Istanbul for a few years, we realized that we don't know much about refugee education opportunities available in Turkey.
That's why we met Deniz Genc, a migration studies expert in Bahcesehir University, to get a deep insight on the topic. Here are our some facts on Syrian refugee children's education in Turkey:
Education in Refugee Camps
There is a special curriculum for "temporary refugees", which is not suitable for either their integration to Turkish education or their comeback to Syria. This curriculum is a modified version of Turkish curriculum and it is taught in Arabic. Parents don't think their children progress with this curriculum and they are looking for better alternatives.
Education outside of Refugee Camps
Almost %70 of Syrian refugees live outside of camps and there is a major difference between education opportunuties of wealthy and poor refugees. While children of wealthy families are able to pursue their education with private lessons and adapt to their new environment, poor families have three options for their children's education:
Syrian children taught by Syrian teachers (informal)
There are some places where Syrian children are being taught by Syrian refugee teachers who empathise with the trauma they have been through. This provides Syrian children with a familiar environment where they learn in their own language and with their own curriculum. This option is preferred especially by those who plan to turn back to Syria when the war is over.
Syrian children taught by Turkish teachers (formal)
Families who have registered for residence in Turkey have documents required to enroll their children to Turkish schools. However, for these children, language is the biggest barrier. They are being treated as a regular Turkish student which means they are not provided with any Turkish classes and they are expected to keep up with the rest of the curriculum. Eventually, most Syrian children give up attending schools in despair.
Syrian children taught by both Turkish and Syrian teachers (informal)
These initiatives are few in number but they provide the most effective education. Syrian children learn in their own language with Syrian teachers and they are encouraged to learn Turkish language and culture by interacting with Turkish volunteers. AD.DAR is one of those initiatives located in Istanbul. (https://openideo.com/challenge/refugee-education/research/ad-dar-community-center). Their programme is to support Syrian children's ongoing formal education by offering homework support and Turkish-language help on weekends. Besides, theyoffer a full schedule of ongoing activities such as conversational English and Turkish courses, TOEFL exam preparation courses, children’s theatre projects and weekly free cultural events like concerts and film screenings.
Youth spent in Turkey. Young children are the ones who suffer most by the lack of education. A kid who was 10 in 2011 is now 14 years old and will be 18 by 2019. Chances are high that even if his family turns back to Syria after the war, he will stay here. Therefore, integration of young children is really crucial.
How might we accelerate Syrian children's integration to Turkish education system?
Language is the biggest barrier. As seen in Yousef's story, it would be much more easier for Syrian children to get the education they need and have control over their future if they knew the language of the country they live in.
How might we create language and culture learning opporunities for Syrian refugee children?