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For Syrian children in Turkey, school brings choices and challenges

© UNICEF Turkey/2013/K. Feyizoglu
Syrian children wait for the start of the first day at a new school in Urfa, southern Turkey - the first UNICEF-supported school in a host community to be fully dedicated to Syrian students.

By Najwa Mekki

Syrian refugees living in Turkey confront choices and challenges in providing education for their children.

URFA, Turkey, 10 June 2013 – It’s 10 a.m., and the children in the front yard of the Information and Education Centre for Syrian Guests are getting restless. They are waiting to see what their new classrooms look like, and they are hot, thirsty and impatient.

They manage to sit politely and listen as the town officials welcome them to the school. They look on in anticipation as the ribbon-cutting ceremony gets under way.

But when they are finally allowed to go to their classrooms, they dash into the building and run up the stairs.

Shared value

There are over 2,600 Syrians registered with the local authorities in Urfa, a city in southeastern Turkey close to the border of the Syrian Arab Republic. The exact number of refugees is thought to be much higher, but many remain unregistered.

And while these families manage as best they can to cope with their daily situation, their children’s schooling remains one of their biggest concerns.

“It is crucial for these children to go to school so that they resume their learning and feel safe and protected while doing so,” says Ayman Abulaban, UNICEF Representative in Turkey. “But school is also a way of creating coexistence and harmony with the host community. After all, education is a value shared by all parents, no matter where they are from.”

New curriculum, new language

Turkey has opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled violence and conflict in their home country. It has also opened its schools to their children, offering them free education alongside their Turkish peers.

But many parents have been reluctant to take up this offer, seeing no point in introducing their children to a new curriculum in a new language that will not be recognized once they go back to Syria.

© UNICEF Turkey/2013/K. Feyizoglu
A Syrian girl attends the first day at the new school in Urfa. Volunteer teachers are selected from among the Syrian population, and classes are conducted in Arabic.

“Learning the Turkish language and going to school here is great for those who are going to stay on,” says Khadija, a mother of four who fled Damascus five months ago. “We have no such plans. We will go back to Syria as soon as the war is over.”

Until then, a school with Arabic-speaking teachers is what they want most for their children – and what UNICEF has provided here in Urfa.

Stepping up education

“This is the first UNICEF-supported school that is fully dedicated to Syrian children in host communities,” says Mr. Abulaban. “The teachers are Syrian volunteers, and Arabic is the language of instruction.”

Local authorities donated the building, and UNICEF refurbished it and provided the furniture and supplies. The school has a capacity of more than 500 students and will operate in two shifts. Teachers are being selected from among the Syrian community here.

While the Turkish government has taken the lead in running the 17 camps housing Syrian refugees, UNICEF has been stepping up its education response both inside and outside the camps by providing school tents, furniture and supplies. 

UNICEF has also been supporting Turkish language classes for older students to increase their chances of attending Turkish universities.

“There are thousands of teenagers and young people here who have had to forgo their dreams of becoming doctors, teachers and engineers,” Mr. Abulaban says. “What future will they have if they are just sitting around in a refugee camp?”



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