Providing education to Syrian refugee children. An analysis of policies and the situation in Eastern Turkey in comparison to Germany

Academic Paper, 2019

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0


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There are more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey (BMZ, 2016). Since more than half of Syrian refugees in Turkey are children (Yavcan & el Ghali, 2017), the high number of refugees is placing demands on public institutions. Several temporary systems for providing education are in place, but only a small part of children enrolled into educational programs attend regular schools. Providing access to education, therefore proves to be a major challenge for policy makers in Turkey. This report explores the situation in Eastern Turkey, with a focus on policies, which are contrasted with German integration policies and reference points from Berlin and Munich.

1. Introduction

Providing education to Syrian refugee children is a current issue in Turkey (Culbertson & Constant 2018). Estimates by Yavcan & El-Ghali (2017) calculate 800.000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey. Turkey has been trying to meet the demand for education of this considerably large population in several ways (Radhakrishnan, 2018)

1. Through the establishment of schools in refugee camps
2. Through non-formal education programs co-funded by international non-governmental organizations
3. Through enrolling children in regular schools.

In addition to this, Syrian teachers in Antalya and Gaziantep established their own curriculums in semi-official schools, set-up by Syrians themselves (Yavcan & El-Ghali 2017, p. 18). However, the integration of Syrian children in the regular school system bears considerable challenges (Beltekin, 2016). For example, non-turkish speaking children often feel overwhelmed in class and find it harder to follow assigned tasks (cf. ibid). Their experiences during the Syrian war, have shaped their perspectives of the world and manifested in their emotional constitution (Culbertson & Constant, 2018, p. 60): “In one survey, 74 percent of the children had experienced the death of somebody they cared strongly about, and 50 percent had been exposed to six or more traumatic events”. Public schools have to shift their teaching approach from monolingual to partially bilingual. The sum of these challenges puts the stability of the Turkish education system at risk, but also threatens the future opportunities for Syrian children to participate and economically contribute to the society they live in. The purpose of this small-scale analysis is to investigate the present situation and issues with providing education for Syrian refugees in Turkey, in contrast to Germany with a focus on integration policies. This is being done with respect to the question:

What are opportunities for policy improvement in Turkey when facing the current issues of providing Syrian refugee children with education?

At first, figures by Culbertson & Constant (2015) and Yavcan & El-Ghali (2017) provide an overview of the overall situation. Then a small analysis of qualitative studies, abducted in the cities of Gaziantep (Yildiz-Nielson & Grey, 2013), Van (Seker & Sirkeci & 2015) and Mardin (Beltekin, 2016) give insight to challenges in meeting short and long-term demands of refugee education. In the next step of the process, policies presently in place in Turkey (Culbertson & Constant, 2015) will be contrasted with German approaches for integration (Aumüller & Brell, 2008). The comparative analysis aims to identify opportunities for policy improvement. In the last step, these results will be discussed against the background of available resources in Turkey.

2. Background of the Issue

The Syrian civil war has created one of the most remarkable episodes of human war (Yildiz-Nielsen & Grey, 2013). Turkey has a 900km border with Syria. In 2011, the country started receiving refugees. With the escalation of the wars, numbers rose at a faster rate and in the year of 2013, 387.883 refugees were registered at the Turkish foreign ministry. 200.093 were accomodated in government camps (ibid). From these numbers 200.000 were identified as Syrian, and approximately 60% as children. When the conflict, south of the Syrian border intensified, refugee numbers in this region doubled again (Yavcan, 2017). However these figures have not included the unregistered refugees.

2.1 Consequences of the Syrian War

The Syrian war has been lasting over seven years, costing an estimated number of 350.000 lives and traumatizing several million people (Tagesschau, 2018). Half of Syria’s population of 23 million people has been displaced (Culbertson & Constant 2015, p. Xi). Over the course of the war, Turkey has taken 3,9 million Syrian refugees (Radhakrishnan, 2018). The population of border areas in Turkey has risen by 20 percent (cf. ibid), which puts the stability of those regions at risk. Local tensions are caused by crowding of schools, hospitals and other public institutions, the rise of rent and downward pressures on wages (ibid.). As a consequence, government budgets and infrastructure is increasingly burdened. By UN definition, a refugee is a person entitled to benefit from the protection of the United Nations, granted by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency (Beltekin, 2017, p. 177). In contrast to this, “an asylum seeker is a person who looks for safety from oppression or serious damage in a country other than his or her own and waits for a decision on the application for refugee status under suitable international and national institutions.” (IOM, 2014). Syrian refugees in Turkey are not part of an asylum regime. Under the “temporary protection act“ Syrians in Turkey have access to emergency, health and education services but their legal working rights are restricted (Yavcan, 2017, p. 14). Generally speaking, the legal concept of refugee is preferred because of its most protected status. Education is everywhere and in every condition considered one of the fundamental rights of people (Beltekin 2017, p.178). For example, the Geneva convention (1952) includes article twenty-two on education: “The country states shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education”. Turkey has ratified this treaty. Therefore the government should provide education to Syrian refugees as they do for their own citizens. However, in reality the socio-economic situation of Syrians creates rather big gaps of injustice. For example, “most Syrians need to work without a legal framework in order to survive”, which lowers wages and also threatens the labor market for Turkish people (ibid:f).

2.2 The Challenge of Providing Education to Refugee children

Based on valid estimates, Yavcan (2017) determines that there are about 800.000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey. The numbers provided by the Directorate General of Migration Management in Turkey (DGMM 2016) are more specific:

- 384.963 children in elementary school age
- 288.124 in middle-school age
- 242.016 in high-school age
- < 700.000 in potential university age (between 19 and 29)

(DGMM 2016, in ibid: 13)

In addition to the Geneva convention for refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR, 2012) places great importance on the provision of quality and protective education. The principles of their policy support “integrating refugees into national education systems, education up to the end of secondary school for all refugees, investment in consecutive training for teachers, determining new standards and indicators to measure progress towards a quality and protective education.” (UNHCR, 2012). Necessity for schooling also applies to those children living in camps. Some of the typical challenges for the schooling of children in camps include:

- Physical establishment of schools
- No licensed teachers can be assigned to camp schools
- Inconsistent times for instruction
- No lessons provided in Arabic

(Yildiz & Nielsen, 2013)

Schools in refugee camps perform vital service to provide at least rudimentary instruction. However, risks are high for children to miss out on important parts of the Turkish curriculum, which includes the challenge of falling behind. Besides camp-schools, there are also non-formal education programs, either set up by Syrian private initiatives, the Turkish ministry of youth and sports, the Turkish red crescent or foreign agencies such as the EU or UNICEF (Radhakrishnan, 2018). Radhakrishnan estimates, that approximately 610.000 children are enrolled into general education programs, but 350.000 of those are not receiving any education, which is formally recognized by the ministry of national education (cf. ibid). For the children who have the opportunity to be enrolled into regular schools, cultural issues seem to create additional barriers. Some of the cultural issues include: “most Syrian parents do not approve the practice in Turkey to place boys and girls in the same classroom“ (Yildiz-Nielsen & Grey 2013). In addition: “Syrian parents also tend to insist that their daughters were headscarves (hijab), while it is illegal for Turkish teenage girls to cover their hair at school“ (ibid).

3. Educational Policies

This chapter provides a theoretical introduction to the process of policy-making and examines educational policies for refugees in Turkey and Germany.

3.1 Theoretical Background

The process of policy-making is used to improve the quality of planning and decision-making. Haddad (2014) explains this the following way:

Planning that is not based on solid understanding of educational policy making will fail, it will fail not primarily because of any technical planning errors but because the planners did not understand why and how these policies evolved and how planning results should lead to new cycles of policy analysis and formulation.

(ibid, p. 16)

A policy is defined functionally to mean an explicit or implicit single decision or group of decisions, which may set out new directives for guiding future decisions (cf. ibid, p. 18). At times, policies may also initiate or retard action, as well as guide the implementation of previous decisions. Policy-making should be the first step in planning cycle and planners must appreciate the dynamics of policy formulation before they can design implementation and evaluation procedures effectively. A favorable policy-making process is designed and executed partially participative. That means different interest groups and stakeholders are involved adequately. The important question here is: Which solutions would people accept? Policies, that fail acceptance among any of the groups which are majorly affected by the decisions following policy, carry a big risk to be rejected by its recipients. A mere top-down approach, as opposed to using participative methodology usually leads to increased resistance. A suitable example for this is “Stuttgart 21”, a city-planning concept that led local citizens to organize extensive protest against over the course of five years with up to 100.000 people publicly protesting (Focus, 2012). To base policies on the needs of the populations and its subgroups, reliable and accessible socio-data is needed. For example, figures about how many Syrian refugee children live in which province of Turkey and their age. In a case study provided by Haddad (2012), none of the four examined countries took full account of interest groups in the first policy cycle (ibid, p. 78). Even if there is a broad evidence basis, accessible socio-data and expert views available the process of policy-making may be hindered by an inappropriate use of methodology. In one case, studied by Haddad (2012), the data was only viewed through the prism of international experts. This may be the case for the report on refugee education by Culbertson & Constant (2015) as well. Such an approach bears the restriction:

When policy options are evaluated in terms of their desirability, the obvious question that needs to be posted is ‘desirable to whom’?

(Haddad, 2012, p. 80)


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Providing education to Syrian refugee children. An analysis of policies and the situation in Eastern Turkey in comparison to Germany
Middle East Technical University  (Bildungswissenschaften)
Current issues in Turkish Education
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Syrian refugees, refugee education, educational policy
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Lea Gathen (Author), 2019, Providing education to Syrian refugee children. An analysis of policies and the situation in Eastern Turkey in comparison to Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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