Syrian and Turkish children go to school together in Turkey’s southeast

Syrian and Turkish children go to school together in Turkey’s southeast

Zeynep Bilgehan – GAZİANTEP
Syrian and Turkish children go to school together in Turkey’s southeast

Syrian children have been receiving education with locals in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, as part of an integration model introduced by the Education Ministry.

When Syrian children migrated to Turkey after war broke out in Syria, they were initially directed to Temporary Education Centers. However, over the last two years the ministry has been developing an integration model to facilitate the childrens’ transition.

Some 976,200 of more than three million Syrians living in Turkey are children at education age, prompting Turkish authorities to find ways of educating Syrians and Turks in the same public schools.

The major obstacle this practice faces - the language barrier - is being addressed by the “Promoting Integration of Syrian Children into Turkish Education System” project, which is being carried out with funding from the EU and Turkey’s Education Ministry.

One of the provinces hosting the highest number of Syrians is the southeastern province of Gaziantep. Syrians account for 625 of the 1,638 students who attend the Şehit Karayılan Elementary School.

Ali Rıza Gündemir, the current acting principal of the school – because the principal is on duty in the Syrian city of al-Bab - said Syrian families are eager to enroll their children in the school.

“When the extra students arrived, the average classroom size went from 23 to 45. A couple of parents initially raised objections, but the children themselves have experienced no problems,” Gündemir told daily Hürriyet, adding that their attendance was not an issue.

Syrian and Turkish children often sit next to each other in classes, and while some manage to communicate in Turkish others still find it difficult.

Zülal Tuzlu from Gaziantep, and Doğa Kamer from Syria’s Aleppo share the same desk and get along well because of Kamer’s fluent Turkish.

A couple of desks behind them sit Syrian siblings Ibrahim and Ayşe. They barely speak Turkish but want to become a teacher or doctor in Turkey one day. While they find receiving education in a language they do not speak difficult, their Turkmen friend Muhammed sitting next to them helps them.

For children like Ibrahim and Ayşe, Turkish classes are being given in the school as part of the “Promoting Integration of Syrian Children into Turkish Education System” project. Some 15 hours of Turkish a week is being taught to Syrian children, who are mostly from Aleppo.

Buşra Erkan, who teaches students Turkish in the Şehit Karayılan Elementary School, said her job is far from easy but she loves teaching despite the difficulties.

“Because the children speak Arabic with their parents, it takes time for them to learn Turkish,” Erkan said.

“These Syrian children will become a part of our society. I applied to this job in order to improve the futures of young people. Children are children regardless of cultural differences,” she added.

Muhammed and Mustafa are two Syrian children taking Erkan’s Turkish class. They both said the more they speak Turkish, the more friends they get.

“When we came here I didn’t have any friends. When I had some, they started to teach me Turkish. I’m learning better now but Turkish is hard,” Mustafa told daily Hürriyet.

Meanwhile Provincial Director of Education Cengiz Mete has said that some 38,850 Syrian children are currently receiving education in Gaziantep public schools.

Mete also said 720 Turkish teachers have been employed for the integration project, as well as 61 guidance counselors for students experiencing social trauma.

“But physical capacity still needs to be increased. We need 3,200 more classes because of the rising Syrian population in Gaziantep,” he said.