Around 30,000 Syrian students are at the required age to start primary, secondary and high school. A large number of them have marked the first day of the 2012-2013 school year in refugee camps in a number of Turkish provinces in the Southeast. The system is functioning best in the long-established camps in Hatay, Kilis, Islahiye, Ceylanpınar and Akçakale. But schoolchildren in new camps in areas such as Adıyaman and Maraş have to wait a little while longer.
Turkish is a compulsory course in the refugee camps, and the students also take courses in math, literature and science, which are being taught in Arabic. The teachers from provinces where the camps are located have been assigned by the Ministry of Education to teach Turkish, with priority given to those teachers who can speak Arabic.
A state official in Kilis, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Sunday’s Zaman, said Turkish courses have a well-prepared syllabus and that the books and other needs of the students are being provided by the state.
“It is particularly preferable that they [Syrian students] learn Turkish so they can act as a bridge between the two countries [Turkey and Syria] when they eventually return to their home country,” the official stated, while mentioning the Syrian people’s enthusiasm for learning Turkish.
Meanwhile, math and other courses that are in Arabic are being given by volunteer refugee teachers in the camps. These teachers are not paid. The course curriculums follow the Turkish curriculums with advice provided by the Syrian teachers while preparing them.
A book shortage in those Arabic courses is a visible problem. Arabic course books can usually not be found; if they can be, photocopies would be distributed to the whole camp, the official also noted.
Meanwhile, although volunteer Syrian teachers are addressing a very urgent need, their numbers are insufficient to have an established system for courses in Arabic. According to diplomatic sources, Turkey is contacting Arabic-speaking countries, including Egypt, for teachers to teach in the Syrian camps to fill this void.
Turkmen students coming from Syria, who are mostly bilingual, speaking both Arabic and Turkish, are luckier. A Turkmen imam, who is a father of three and also a member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) armed opposition fighting against the Syrian army, mentioned that his children are receiving their math and science education in Turkish in the camp called Yayladağı 2 in Hatay, which is mostly populated by Turkmens who have fled Syria.
He mentioned that in Yayladağı 2,660 children are of school age, and all of them are receiving an education in the tent schools.
“We do not have much of a problem. Our children speak Turkish. Teachers are also happy,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
Turkey is also trying to ensure that Syrian university students continue their education. Following suggestions from the Foreign Affairs and Education ministries, the Higher Education Board (YÖK) has recently decided that Syrian students can continue their studies at Çukurova University in Adana, Gaziantep University, Harran University in Şanlıurfa, Kilis 7 Aralık University, Mustafa Kemal University in Hatay, Osmaniye Korkut Ata University and Mersin University on the condition that they pass a Turkish language test. If they do not pass the test, they will have to take Turkish language courses before starting their studies in Turkey.
YÖK officials say that this practice is only valid for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Students can enroll in these universities with a special status, free of charge but only by making a verbal request to receive an education. The issues of scholarships and student dormitories have yet not reached the agenda, the officials also confirmed to Sunday’s Zaman.
While Turkey is accommodating about 85,000 registered Syrian refugees in the camps, a large number of Syrians are living in apartments they rented in a number of provinces in the East and Southeast. The state does not take responsibility for those Syrians living outside the camps, so they cannot benefit from any Turkish state services addressing education or health.
Some of these Syrians settled in provinces are upper-middle class people who can afford to rent a house, but some of them have left the camps due to the quickly growing number of people entering the camps.
Hasan Kanbolat, the director of Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), has drawn attention to the difficult conditions of those people who are about to run out of the money they brought from Syria, during a phone interview with Sunday’s Zaman.
“Even when they go to the hospital, they pay money. They are treated as foreign tourists. There is no mechanism in Turkey to protect these people, who will run out of money this year and would not be able to pay for their basic needs including food. Then we would awaken to a tragedy,” Kanbolat maintained.
Mentioning education services, Kanbolat stated that Turkey is able to open some schools in regions where the Syrian refugees and provide an education in Arabic to fulfill Syrian students’ need for an education. He also said that Turkey has to develop more mechanisms to ensure the integration of adult Syrian refugees into society.
“These people have to urgently achieve integration into Turkish society. The adults need vocational training, and they have to make a quick entry into business life. If these people are not engaged in any illegal business, they should even be able to acquire citizenship,” Kanbolat added.