Turkey struggling to provide education to Syrians

Friday 09/10/2015
Syrian refugee children in Malatya, Turkey.

Istanbul - Turkey is struggling to provide education for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees cut off from schools and univer­sities after fleeing the war in their homeland. Officials and analysts said failure to educate the refugees could result in a “lost generation” of immigrant youngsters in Turkey.

Getting Syrian children into schools is another challenge facing Turkey as it provides a haven for approximately 2 million Syrians, many of whom have been in the country for up to four years and are destitute.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey has spent $7.5 billion to care for the Syrians, who are called “guests” in official Turk­ish parlance but do not enjoy offi­cial refugee status.

Two out of three of the more than 600,000 Syrian children in Turkey do not attend school, Yusuf Buyuk, a deputy undersecretary in the Education Ministry in Ankara, said October 3rd during the presenta­tion of an action plan supported by the United Nations’ children’s agency UNICEF.

“The work under way has the aim to prevent Syrian children from be­coming a lost generation and to en­able them to build a bright future for themselves,” Buyuk said. He said there was a danger that unedu­cated youngsters could join crimi­nal gangs.

Analysts warned that securing access to education for Syrian chil­dren was not just a moral duty but a political necessity. “Not providing education to refugees poses a long-term risk of social consequences,” a report by Turkish research organi­sations Orsam and Tesev said ear­lier this year.

Ankara wants to enroll 400,000 Syrians into schools by the end of the school year next summer, Buyuk said. About 30 schools have been built for Syrian children and some existing Turkish schools have started to work in a two-shift sys­tem, teaching Turkish children in the morning before Syrian volun­teer teachers arrive to lead classes for young Syrians in the afternoon.

In an effort to boost education for Syrian children, UNICEF has worked with Turkish authorities on developing plans for different Turkish regions. The organisation’s Turkey representative, Philippe Duamelle, said UNICEF was ready to support Turkey to reach its “am­bitious aim” of getting hundreds of thousands of Syrian children into school.

Special schools for Syrians are operating in Turkish refugee camps that house about 15% of the Syrian refugee population.

Sefika Bicer, an Education Min­istry official in the border province of Hatay, told the state-run Anad­olu news agency that 230,000 Syr­ian children are in school. About 85,000 of those attend school in refugee camps; 105,000 are educat­ed in facilities earmarked for Syr­ians outside the camps and 40,000 have found a place in a Turkish state school.

Many children are taught by Syr­ian teachers hired from among the refugees. Buyuk said Syrian teach­ers were paid $150-$220 a month, much less than a Turkish teacher, who earns at least $730 a month.

Separate efforts are under way to find ways for older Syrian teenag­ers to attend university. The Turk­ish government provides scholar­ships for several hundred Syrian students every year but only about 2,000 Syrian students are enrolled at Turkish universities, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT.

For the government, efforts to educate the Syrians, which cost Turkish taxpayers $600 million in 2014, carry the political risk of al­ienating Turks who say the money spent on Syrian “guests” would better be spent on Turkish children and on fixing existing problems in the Turkish education system.

Opposition politician Umut Oran earlier this year said 1.3 mil­lion Turkish children were not attending school, while 1 million children were exploited as child la­bourers. Oran also said the Turkish system failed to provide children with a modern education, point­ing to poor test results of Turkish pupils in comparison to other coun­tries of the Organisation for Eco­nomic Cooperation and Develop­ment. He said while school classes in EU countries had an average of about 20 pupils, up to 60 children were crammed into some classes in Turkey’s poor eastern and south-eastern regions.

Some Turks are unhappy with Erdogan’s decision to keep the door open to Syrian refugees. “There are just too many of them,” said Dogu­kan Unuvar, a lawyer in Istanbul. “People are worrying,” he said, adding that many were concerned about Syrians resorting to theft and burglary to make ends meet.

As Syrians are officially banned from working in Turkey, many of them try to find illegal work, driv­ing down wages for everyone, Unu­var said. “Syrians will work for 1 lira (30 US cents) an hour,” he said.