Individual Submission Summary

Direct link:

Meeting the needs of non-camp refugees through education: The role of Syrian refugee-run schools in Turkey

Tue, March 7, 11:45am to 1:15pm, Sheraton Atlanta, Floor: 2, Macon (South Tower)


Syria has produced the largest number of refugees, which is almost five million, since the outbreak of the crisis in 2011. Syrian refugees can be characterized by the large portion (85%) of non-camp habitants. More diversity can be found among refugee lives in cities and towns comparing to those in camps and shelters. The school enrollment ratio of non-camp refugee children in primary level is estimated to be 64% worldwide, which is relatively lower than the average of whole refugees (76%). Although providing education for those population is critical to achieve the goals of EFA, educational situation in non-camp settings remains unclear due to the lack of empirical data.
The majority of Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey. Their population is almost three million, whose 90% live in non-camp settings. Syrian children are entitled to be enrolled in Turkish local schools or Syrian schools. The school enrollment ratio of Syrian school-aged children, however, remains to be only 40% in Turkey. These statistics, however, merely reflect the situation of refugee-run schools in non-camp area. The number of those refugee-run schools are estimated to be around 500 all over Turkey. They are supposed to contribute in the inclusion of non-camp Syrian children to schools.
The purpose of this study is to explore the roles of refugee-run schools on individual refugee lives, putting focus on the perspectives of Syrian school stakeholders. The evidences were collected in the fieldwork conducted at nine refugee-run schools in Hatay, Sanliurfa and Gaziantep provinces in southeastern Turkey during 2013-2015, employing semi-structured and narrative interviews, and questionnaire surveys.
The first Syrian school in Turkey was opened only half a month after the Syrian crisis had erupted, and that sort of schools gradually increased in number. The medium of instruction in those schools is Arabic, and the teachers and students are mostly from Syria. They also utilize curriculum and textbooks which are almost identical to those in Syria. Those Syrian schools had been operated independently until 2013, and yet the Turkish authority began to bring them under their control since then. They started to send a Turkish coordinator to each Syrian school. The coordinators collect educational data of those schools, and observe and further supervise their school management in some case. This intervention is internationally regarded as a generous support for Syrian schools by Turkish government because they allow Syrian schools to operate in its territory without forcing them to close down. From the Syrians’ perspective, however, it can be an unwelcome restriction on their activities which they used to manage autonomously. The educational situation at the refugee-run schools is dynamically changing since the Turkish intervention took place.
Refugee-run schools play the essential roles for their students and teachers because they are operated by displaced Syrians themselves. There are two key features which were analyzed: (1) Strong relationship among students and teachers: The way teachers treat and care for their students is one of the reasons why the students keep going to the school despite the harsh unstable situation. Some of the boys at a refugee-run school mentioned that “we are being treated well in this school as if we were the teachers’ children,” “(What I like at this school is) the brotherly behavior among students.” (2) Freedom attained at the safe place of refuge: Even though they are suffering from homesickness, some of the teachers and students are aware of a certain advantage of being away from their country. “There was no room for expressing one’s opinion (in Syria). This school (in Turkey) is much better” (Mathematics secondary teacher), “There is more freedom to express one’s opinion than at the school in Syria” (12th-grade boy student).
The refugee-run schools have the above two particular functions because their stakeholders consider them a unified Syrian community at the place of refuge, consisting of those who share the same experiences as refugees. The Syrian students and their teachers admire that unifying role of the school while they are isolated in Turkey. These refugee-run schools provide them with not only the sustainable educational opportunities, but the emotional support and motivation, which no other supporters are able to do.
This study is significant because it is based on empirical data collected longitudinally since 2013 along with the perspectives of Syrian stakeholders. It will contribute to facilitate further understanding on refugee-run school in non-camp urban areas, which will be a new trend of refugee education in the near future.