Thousands of Syrian children in Turkey are not going to school, while the number of children reaching school age is on the rise. On Universal Children’s Day, educators are concerned about these children's futures.
International organizations, civil society organizations, academics, teachers and parents have all expressed concern about the possibility of a lost generation of Syrian children due to a lack of education. Thousands of Syrian children are of school age, but more than half are not benefitting from their right to education.
There are more than 700,000 Syrian refugee children living Turkey of school age, and more than 400,000 of these kids are not going to school, according to a report published this month by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Other figures from UNICEF say there are 2,070,000 Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey, some 1,120,000 of whom are children.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, during a speech given at the United Nations in September, said the number of Syrian children born in Turkey has reached 70,000, a major percentage of which are not registered, and he added that these figures are rapidly increasing.
Consequently, every year the number children reaching the school age is increasing quickly. This also means that the risk of children selling tissues on the street, begging, working jobs for low pay or joining radical or criminal organizations is also increasing.
Friday marks Universal Children's Rights Day, and Stephanie Kim Gee of HRW told DW that the rights of children who are the victims of war they had absolutely no role in starting must be taken into consideration.
Turkey's duty to educate
International law obligates Turkey to ensure the education rights of the Syrian children who are under its protection. However, apart from the children living in the 25 camps on the Syrian border, few young refugees benefit from their right to education. Official figures indicate that around 260,000 live in these camps, while the remaining 1.8 million live in cities and towns.
Of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Istanbul, only 18,500 are attending classes in temporary schools, known as "Syrian schools," where they receive Arabic-language education under appointed representatives of the Ministry of Education, according to Abdülkadir Göçer a board member of the Syrian Education Association, a group comprised of Syrian academics, journalists and business people.
There are more than 240 of these schools throughout Turkey, where 220,000 students receive education with the support of 7,500 teachers. The Syrian Education Association has launched a project geared toward keeping Syrian kids off the street called "I will return to my school."
The project, which is supported by the Istanbul Governorate and the Directorate of Religious Affairs, has kept some 2,000 Syrian kids off the streets, according to Nesrin Kawarah, a 32-year-old English teacher who is among those spearheading the project. This year, the target is to reach 10,000 children.
'They are remembering they are children'
In Basaksehir, one of Istanbul's most far-out districts, 500 Syrian children, the majority of whom are Kurds, attend a regular school in the Güvercintepe neighborhood. They are taught in Arabic, as the education is in accordance with Syrian syllabi.
Over their time in Turkish classrooms, teachers have said they noticed an improvement in the students' psychological health.
"When they started school, the pictures that they were drawing were all filled with war and violence. Guns, demolished buildings and schools. There were drawings of dead family members," said a teacher who requested anonymity. "However, in the past few months we can say that we have witnessed an important change in their mental state. Instead of pictures of guns and destruction, they are drawing flowers, beautiful houses and hearts. They are remembering that they are children. They are singing songs and playing games together.”
Five hours a week of Turkish
The syllabi of the Syrian schools in Turkey call for five hours of Turkish lessons per week. Syrian children also have the right to attend regular state schools.
However, according to Melda Akbas, a project coordinator at the Children's Studies Unit at Istanbul's Bilgi University, these children lack the necessary Turkish language skills to be able to follow classes in state schools.
Still, the Syrian Education Association's Göcer said the Turkish Ministry of Education is planning on gradually easing the kids into regular schools.
The association aims to popularize a practice that was implemented in the province of Kayseri last year. According to this practice, Syrian children beginning school at the first grade instead of entering the Syrian schools instead directly begin their education at the Turkish state schools.
“Perhaps they will gradually assimilate," Göcer said. "However, for us making sure they attend school comes first."