Integration of Syrian child refugees in Turkish schools (Part II.)
High school in Istanbul In Istanbul, I visited a public elementary school in the Esenyurt neighborhood, which is known as the neighborhood of Syrian refugees. Despite this, the percentage of Syrian children in the classrooms here is low. There are roughly 30 students in each class, of which one or two are from Syria. Here I interviewed the older children. There were mostly eleven to thirteen-year-old children, and their stay in Turkey in some cases even exceeded six years. They also differed from the children who were in the temporary education center in that some of them had already been at school in Syria for a year. For example, 11-year-old Hamza completed the first three grades in Syria and then went with his family to Turkey, where after completing a year of study in a temporary educational center, he entered high school from the fifth grade and today he has no problems mastering the curriculum at the same pace as his Turkish peers: "After arriving in Turkey, I learned Turkish very quickly. That's why I'm already in public school and I like it here." (Hamza, 11 years old)
Other students have been living in Turkey for a long time. Although twelve-year-old Aja has been living in Turkey for six years, she was the only one of the children I met in Istanbul who wanted to return to Syria: "I've been living in Turkey for six years, my family has gotten used to it, but I'd rather returned to Syria." (Aja, 12 years old) The fact that, unlike the temporary education center, pupils learn only in Turkish at the state school, they use Turkish as their main language most of the day and feel more integrated, hence this is probably the reason why they don't want to go back to Syria, but they want to stay in Turkey.
Unlike the temporary education center, Syrian children in Turkish state schools will find themselves in an environment where they are already in the minority. They do not like their Turkish peers and it is difficult for them to get out of the fringes of this children's society. It is especially difficult for Syrian girls, because in every class there are so-called girl gangs, where it is important to get close to the leader and she can then pull them up the imaginary social ladder. The absence of boy gangs gives more space to Syrian boys, when it is easier for them to assert themselves in the company of other individuals. However, these differences fade over time and students get used to each other.
The interesting thing about this public high school in Istanbul was that in all the classes I visited, the Syrian students sat in the middle row and in the front desks where the teachers sat them. These Syrian pupils are thus, like it or not, in the center of the action and have to be involved in the lessons. If the Turkish teacher had not taken such a step, the student would have been relegated somewhere to the edge of the class to the back benches, where he would hardly be able to find the motivation for deeper integration among his classmates. For the above reasons, teachers are much more popular with these children than classmates. These children also said that Turkish teachers are very helpful if they don't understand something: "When I don't understand something, the teacher always explains it to me, she is a very good teacher and thanks to her I started to enjoy mathematics." (Taha, 12 years old) Since the teaching at this school is conducted in Turkish, the children can no longer rely on their parents for homework, which forces them to concentrate more on teaching directly at school. All the Syrian children I met at this school came from either Aleppo or the city of Hama. At the school in Istanbul, as in Karaman, the school bus system also works, but most of the students live near the school.
Of course, teaching for Syrian children now only takes place according to the Turkish curriculum, as they complete all subjects together with their Turkish classmates. And so, in contrast to the temporary educational center, even the subjects of religion and ethics are taught according to the Turkish curriculum. In this subject, they learn not only about religion, but also, for example, about the role of religion in the state and about secularism. In the second part of the subject, mainly Turkish children learn about ethics in practice, when ethics is explained to them, for example, based on the relationships between them and their Syrian classmates. In this subject, they also learn about things like tolerance, otherness, responsibility and empathy. This subject connects both sides the most. Religion is the same for both groups of children, but the relationship to religion is weaker among Greek children. But it is through religion that Turkish children can find connections with their Syrian classmates and can take them as part of their world, at least in this way. However, Syrian children are much more active in religion classes than Turkish children. Reading and memorizing the Qur'an is much easier for them, since the language in which the Qur'an is written is also their mother tongue.
Syrian children's problems with learning are disappearing over time. The differences between them and their Turkish classmates are blurred the more these children master the Turkish language. However, in some subjects, Syrian children were even ahead of their Turkish peers. In addition to the already mentioned religion, which is understandable, some Syrians also excel in mathematics. The aforementioned twelve-year-old Taha, who has been in Turkey since the first grade, is among the best mathematicians in the class: "Taha is active and very good at mathematics. Since I put him in the middle of the class, he has been paying more attention to her. Now he is one of the best students I have.” (Şehnaz, 25 years old, math teacher)
It can be said that my second hypothesis "Syrian children have problems with learning in public schools" does not apply in this case. Therefore, there is no assumption that Syrian children should be worse students. The transition from a Syrian to a Turkish school is not something that could cause significant problems for a Syrian student. It seems that by gradually mastering the curriculum, the Syrian student feels more integrated among his Turkish classmates and his motivation to return home decreases.