School Dropouts and Declining Education Levels in Turkey

School Dropouts and Declining Education Levels in Turkey
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International Organizations Raise Alarm



It is no longer a secret that Syrian children in Istanbul, Gaziantep, Urfa, and other Turkish cities are facing difficulties with education. Many children have become street peddlers, explaining the rising school dropout rate.  Financial need, the absence of breadwinners at home, and the difficulty of integration are the most significant reasons for this remarkable phenomenon.


Suwar had a conversation with one of the children selling paper napkins in Aksaray, in the center of Istanbul, and asked him why he was not at school. He replied, "My mother and father have five children including me and my father’s monthly salary is 1,200 Turkish Lira, not enough to pay our expenses. So I decided to leave school and work to help my father. I can read and write, and that's enough for me now."


Ziad, 13, tells the magazine, “Last year I went to school for four months. I didn’t understand the Turkish language, so I decided to leave school and work at a bakery, where I learned Turkish very well. Next year maybe I will try go back to Turkish school if I get accepted."


The difficulty of the Turkish language barrier prevents many children from pursuing their education, especially in major Turkish cities, where Syrian schools are far from many children’s homes. Yara, a student in the tenth grade living on the Asian side of Istanbul, tells Suwar, "The Syrian schools are too far away from my home." She adds, “I was enrolled in a Turkish school, where I stayed for two months. I didn’t understand anything because the language was difficult. We did not have enough money to enroll in language courses, and after the death of my father, we had only my mother to support us."


Declining education levels


Syrian schools exist in a majority of Turkish cities, where Syrian refugee teams work. These schools receive funding from the Turkish government, the Syrian government and foreign organizations, as well as individual donations from Syrian and Arab expatriates from the Gulf States.



Maaz Al-Dimashq, a father of two and a resident of Gaziantep, complains about the declining level education, saying, "I registered my children in one of the free schools run by one of the Syrian-Turkish associations. Later, I noticed an absence of interest in the teaching staff, and recently discovered that many Syrian teachers are only interested in receiving their salaries each month, without paying the slightest attention to the interests of the pupils and the quality of education."


He continues, "During a public meeting, I met by chance with the Assembly administration responsible for my son's school, and asked them about the possibility of establishing an intensive Turkish language course for six months.  Then they would be able to teach the curriculum in Turkish with Turkish students, perhaps raising the level of education and allowing about 45 thousand Syrian students in Gaziantep to return to school. The Assembly's reply was categorically that such action would threaten the Syrian children with the loss of their identity." He adds, "They do not really recognize that this is creating a generation of illiteracy and that maintaining Syrian identity is not difficult because Syrian children speak Arabic at home.”



Maaz’s wife tells the magazine, "There is a severe lack of basic subjects such as Turkish, English, and mathematics, meaning that I have to provide additional education for my children at home to bridge the gap.”


On the other hand, the magazine talked with Knowledge Society, one of the main agencies responsible for the Syrian education sector in Turkey, which prints, revises and supervises the Syrian curriculum, and supports and finances a number of schools. The head of its Media Office, Mr. Abdul Karim Bisal, tells the magazine, "We are sorry to say that the schools which do not charge fees from students experience declining education levels because they do not receive the support they need to meet the needs of their employees, and some teachers are even working as volunteers. Some of these schools do not demand efficient teachers because this will cause the school to raise its fees, so we are obliged to hire people who do not have sufficient experience, because we can pay them lower wages."


Ms. Hala, who is responsible for Syrian educational affairs in Turkey, discusses the most important reasons behind the decline in the level of education, saying, "The lack of oversight, the multiplicity of agencies responsible for education, and lack of coordination between the Ministry of Education in the Interim Government and the civil society organizations, as well as a lack of qualitative international support and a decline in support from the United Nations are all explanations for the decline in the  level of education for Syrian children in Turkey."


Private Institutes


Syrian social networking sites in Turkey are filled with advertisements for private schools and language courses. Despite the Turkish government’s criminalization of operating private schools, many people have rented private homes and turned them into classrooms. Many Syrian families resort to registering their children in these private schools, despite the cost, which in some cases reaches one thousand dollars a year.


Mrs. Noor resorted to registering her daughter in one of these schools for seven years, telling Suwar, "We had a bad public school experience, so I registered my daughter in a private school. The education level is better, and more care is put into the teaching. There is no legal recognition of the school, but I do not think about it too much, all I want now is for my daughter to receive a good education this year, and in the coming years I will look for a better solution.” She adds, "Syrians are lucky to find a school for their children for one year, and we no longer think much about the future."


Controlled education


Many Syrian families complain about the Syrian school administration due to their attempts to impose certain methods of teaching, which many children have not experienced before. Ms. Nibal tells Suwar, "After about five months of school in Urfa, my daughter came to tell me that she wanted to wear headscarf, even though she was only nine years old. I was surprised, because she is just a child and didn’t understand what she was saying. I investigated the issue and discovered that her teacher in the classroom had given them several lessons about the importance of the headscarf." She adds, "I do not know what to do. If she leaves school she will lose her education, but if she continues, she will be exposed to more ideas that are alien to us. I am not against teaching religion, but it must be taught thoughtfully, without indoctrinating and manipulating the minds of children."


Suwar asked Knowledge Society about this phenomenon. Their Media Office commented that indoctrination does exist in schools. The head of the Media Office, Mr. Bisal, added, "Administrators and donors control the fate of some of the schools, the students, and the employees, without regard to the public interest of the students." He continued, "Many of the schools seek to further the agenda of the supporter and financier, teaching ideas that the financier wants to circulate, which spoils the educational process, and wastes the real goal of the student's school attendance."



Professor Tamim Alwan warned of these behaviors, saying, "These actions are very dangerous for children, because the child picks up ideas that are difficult to change. Manipulating their minds and trying to mobilize ideas is far from true education and it threatens the children’s future, making them a slave to the ideas they learned in childhood, without any understanding of what they actually mean. "


Shocking numbers


Human Rights Watch, one of the most important human rights organizations in the world, wasted no time in issuing a report on Syrian refugees in Turkey titled Education: ‘When I Picture My Future I See Nothing. The report revealed that prior to the conflict, the primary school enrollment rate in Syria was ninety-nine percent and lower secondary school enrollment was eighty-two percent, with high gender parity. Today, nearly three million Syrian children inside and outside the country are out of school, according to UNICEF estimates—demolishing Syria’s achievement of near universal education before the war.


The organization pointed out that in Turkey’s twenty-five government-run refugee camps, approximately ninety percent of school-aged Syrian children regularly attend school. However, these children represent just thirteen percent of the Syrian refugee school-aged population in Turkey. The vast majority of Syrian children in Turkey live outside refugee camps in towns and cities, where their school enrollment rate is much lower; between 2014 and 2015 only twenty-five percent of them attended school.



The Human Rights Watch report went on to say that Turkey has taken several positive steps to meet its obligations by lifting legal barriers to Syrian children’s access to formal education. In 2014, for example, the government lifted restrictions requiring Syrians to produce a Turkish residency permit in order to enroll in public schools, instead making the public school system available to all Syrian children with a government issued ID. It also began to accredit a parallel system of “temporary education centers” that offer an Arabic-language curriculum approved by the Education Ministry of the Syrian Interim Government, a cabinet of Syrian opposition authorities in exile in Turkey.


Additionally, Turkey has already shouldered a substantial burden as the host country for over two million Syrian refugees, spending approximately US $6 billion with limited support from the international community, which should step up its financial and other support to Turkey in order to improve access to education for Syrian children. But Turkey as well should do more to ensure that its own policies are being enforced, and to address the remaining practical obstacles that prevent ensuring Syrian children’s access to education.



However, for all its efforts, Turkey has not yet succeeded in making education available to most Syrian refugee children in the country, particularly those living outside the camps, and the laudable progress to date should be considered only the beginning of efforts to scale-up enrollment. Overall, less than one-third of the 700,000 Syrian school-aged children who entered Turkey in the last four years are attending school—meaning approximately 485,000 remain unable to access education.





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