Att. Dilara Yurtseven – Groningen University – External PHD Candidate at Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences
Since the first group of Syrians has entered to Turkey in 2011, they were considered as guests until they were legally granted “Temporary Protection” status in 2014. This political approach affected the policies on primary education of Syrian children. The Ministry of National Education (MoNE) had not intended to bring forward any policies to provide permanent formal education but only provided education in the accommodation centres with an idea to prevent Syrian children’s future adaptation problems in Syria when they return. Outside the accommodation centres, national and international organisations had provided education to Syrian children without any formalisation. The Circular on Education Services for Foreign Nationals (CESFN) (No: 2014/21) was adopted on 23 September 2014 and became the legal source of current education practices in Turkey. In this regard, the right to education of Syrian children have been prescribed by CESFN in a standardized framework as compatible with the core human rights obligations.
Syrian children’s primary education in Turkey
Based on the UNHCR numbers in 2019, there are around 600,000 Syrian children between 5-11 years old in Turkey with 3% of them living in the accommodation centres. Enrolment rate to primary schools was 96.3% by the end of 2018. However, in 2014, before CESFN, the participation rate of Syrian children in primary school was 14% outside of the accommodation centres and 60% in the accommodation centres in Turkey, Those numbers were below the 99% of enrolment rates in Syria before the war. The numbers indicate that the introduction of CESFN played an effective role for this increase.
Once the CESFN was introduced, Syrian children have started enjoying their right to education as guaranteed under International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on Rights of Children, and the European Convention on Human Rights to those Turkey is a party. These Conventions require Turkey at least to (i) make primary education compulsory, free and available, (ii) provide the same education system in terms of the content and diploma, (iii) take necessary steps to eliminate discrimination and support Syrian children and (iv) ensure them a formal education in Turkish, the official language of Turkey.
In light of the human rights standards, CESFN offers two types of education to Syrian children. These are (1) formal education at Turkish Public Schools and (2) Temporary Education Centres (TECs).
(1) Turkish Schools
Syrian children are entitled to receive 12-year education in Turkish schools without any restrictions or limitations, that is same as Turkish citizens. They are registered to the nearest school to where they live. Unlike to Turkish citizens, 12-year education is not compulsory for Syrian children, but local municipalities conduct regular visits to the Syrian families to make sure that their children attend to the school. Furthermore, to keep Syrian children in school, the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education programme, financed by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations and implemented through Turkish authorities, supports vulnerable Syrian families financially upon submission of the school registration documents.
Schools are free and schoolbooks are provided by the MoNE free of charge. However, parents should still afford auxiliary costs including stationery and uniforms. They might be asked for a contribution fee or donation once or twice a year. While Turkish parents may reject to pay such fees, Syrian parents hesitate to object those fees since they are concerned that their children may not be registered to the school or may be treated in a less favourable way.
Once registered to the school, the appropriate grade-level of Syrian children is determined according to any official document, interviews or exams indicating the children’s past educational background in Syria. Most of the time, children are placed based on their age even if they do not speak Turkish or have any previous education. As of 2019, almost all Syrian children starting primary school were born in Turkey or either arrived at Turkey as infants. Hence, current generation will directly start primary school without any previous education assessment.
When the assessment is completed, all Syrian children are integrated to the online school (e-school) service same as all Turkish students. Thus, they become a part of the formal education and entitled to the same rights and obligations applicable in Turkish schools such as allowed absence days, content of education, and disciplinary rules. Once the children complete their education, they receive the formal and valid diploma like Turkish students.
(2) Temporary Education Centres
As defined in CESFN, TECs provide “primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children for temporary period resulting from the mass influx”. TECs were to be established by national or international organisations subject to compliance with the standards and principles of the MoNE and 12-year education in all accommodation centres were provided through TECs until 2016/2017. There were approximately 404 TECs in or outside the accommodation centres with almost 292,000 Syrian children enrolled in 2017. The education language in TECs was Arabic with a revised Syrian curriculum as approved by the MoNE. Turkish teachers appointed to TECs by the MoNE for Turkish language lessons. A variable tuition fee are applicable at most of the TECs. Turkish government recognises the diploma obtained from TECs for further education in Turkey.
It should be stressed that despite the regulation in CESFN, on 22.08.2016, the MoNE declared a new course of action to take necessary measures to enable Syrian children to receive a qualified education in every province in Turkey. UNHCR has expressed this step as “placing greater emphasis on the inclusion of Syrian children in Turkish schools”. According to this step, the MoNE has decided to close TECs gradually and integrate all Syrian children in the Turkish School system effectively. Thus, in 2016/2017 education year, Syrian children at the 1st grade, 5th grade and 9th grade could not be registered to the TECs but instead could be enrolled in Turkish Schools. As for the accommodation centres, the MoNE has set up public schools starting from the first year of education in 2016/2017. Accordingly, TECs will be permanently closed by the 2020/2021 education year.
Overall, the current legal regulations on paper can be considered efficient and have already enabled almost all Syrian children to participate in the primary education in Turkey. However, challenges including insufficient integration policies, unstable policies, language barrier, peer bullying, academic failure and lack of parents’ involvement are still being observed and expressed by the academics, NGOs, schools and Syrian parents. In this regard, reasons should be researched, and new course of actions should be taken to reach the full realisation of Syrian children’s right to education.
 UNHCR. “Syria Regional Refugee Response”. UNHCR Data: December 2019. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria/location/113
 European Comission, Managing the Refugee Crisis the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, 2018, p.5
 Xanthe Ackerman, Education for Syrian Refugees in Turkey – Beyond Camps, 2014, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2014/01/17/education-for-syrian-refugees-in-turkey-beyond-camps/
 UNICEF. “The State of the World’s Children 2013”. UNICEF.2013. https://www.unicef.org/sowc2013/files/SWCR2013_ENG_Lo_res_24_Apr_2013.pdf
 ECRE-AIDA Asylum Database Information, Access to Education, 2019, https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/turkey/access-education-1
 MoNE, “Suriyeli çocukların eğitimi için yol haritası belirlendi.”, 22.08.2016, https://rdb.meb.gov.tr/suriyeli-cocuklarin-egitimi-icin-yol-haritasi-belirlendi/haber/11750/tr
UNHCR, Syrian Refugees in Turkey Frequently Asked Questions Table of Contents, January 2017,http://www.unhcr.org/turkey/uploads/root/eng(69).pdf.
 Kilic Volkan, Gokce Asiye, The Problems of Syrian Students in the Basic Education in Turkey, European Journal of Social Science Education and Research, January-April 2018.