Challenges to inclusive education of Syrian students in Turkey

Atmacasoy, Abdullah
Engin Demir, Cennet
Contribution From the very first introduction in the Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education in 1994 to the Education 2030 Agenda, the inclusive education has been spotlighted in several efforts to expand education for all children. Whereas it has been restricted to the education of students with disabilities in some settings as the most common implementation, the inclusive education is defined broadly as the process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out all learners irrespective of their physical, intellectual, social, linguistic or other disadvantaged conditions (UNESCO, 1994, 2016, 2017). Crises such as natural disasters, pandemics, and conflicts result in internal and transnational displacements by leaving entire generations traumatized, uneducated and unskilled to contribute to the social and economic recovery of their home countries or host societies (UNESCO, 2016). With regard to those vulnerable groups, countries are encouraged to develop more responsive, resilient education and inclusive systems to meet needs of internally displaced persons and refugees recognizing the right of all children to education as the basic human right declared in international treaties and legally binding and non-binding instruments (UNESCO, 1960; UNHCR, 1951; United Nations, 1948). To overcome barriers to access to education in times of crises, well-established and sound emergency responses are recommended to put in practice since education provides a protective and stable environment, equips with life-saving skills, and protects pupils from forced recruitment into armed groups, child labour, sexual exploitation, and child marriages (UNESCO, 2016; UNHCR, 2017). As mandated by the international treaties, U.N. member states are accounted for ensuring inclusive education for refugees. Through catch-up and bridging programs, it is strongly emphasized to assist students acquire the knowledge and skills which are necessary to transition to the mainstream education (UNHCR, 2017). Since the outbreak of Syrian war in 2011, the humanitarian crisis has escalated with the displacement of about 6.1 million internally displaced people within Syria and over 5.4 million people who have fled to neighbouring countries (UNHCR, 2018). Turkey hosts the largest number of registered Syrian displaced people by granting temporary protection to 3.4 million people accounting for 4.29% of the country population (Directorate General of Migration Management, 2018). As of December 2017, there are 976,200 school-age Syrian children under temporary protection status in Turkey who have been provided with two choices to access to education: Temporary Education Centres (TECs) or Turkish public schools. The Ministry of National Education of Turkey (MNE) has demonstrated efforts to make systematic changes and implement policies to accelerate Syrian students’ mainstreaming into the education system since September 2016. These efforts have yielded promising results by increasing the enrolment rates of Syrian children from 30.42% in 2014 to 61.95% accounting for 604,779 registered students. A trend is also observed in the decrease of the number of students in TECs. Whereas 82.61% of enrolled students were educated in TECs in 2014, this number decreased to 37.94% at the end of 2017. Meanwhile, the Syrian students in Turkish formal schools have a share of 62.06% of the total registered students. Removing legal obstacles to include Syrian children into Turkish education system is an important step but there exist several barriers hampering access to inclusive education that ranges from school-based factors to economic hardships and social integration (Human Rights Watch, 2015). The purpose of this study is to figure out the challenges at TECs and formal schools to the inclusive education of Syrian students in Turkey. Method This study is designed as a systematic review to reveal the difference between real and assumed knowledge by compiling all empirical evidence congruent with our pre-specified eligibility criteria (Green & Higgins, 2011; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006). To identify challenges from 2011 onwards, the literature was reviewed to compile sources on educational access of Syrian children in Turkey by investigating sources based on empirical data including peer-reviewed articles, master and doctorate theses, and reports provided by UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through a systematic search of major databases - Web of Science, Education Index, SCOPUS, Science Direct, ULAKBIM (the Turkish Academic Network and Information Centre), and CoHE Thesis Centre (the Council of Higher Education in Turkey). The studies were analyzed through content analysis method which uses a set of procedures to make valid inferences from text (Weber, 1990). All screened studies were firstly categorized based on the publication type as reports and peer-reviewed articles. They have been scrutinized in terms of the type of education (i.e., formal and informal), year of publication, grade level, and research methods/design. Expected Outcomes The longstanding problems of Turkish education system are assumed to reflect on Syrian students and thus exacerbate their access to education. Our preliminary analysis revealed four major themes indicating potential barriers to the access of Syrian children to education in Turkey: school-based factors, economic hardships, societal issues and administrative problems. In addition to reveal obstacles to inclusion of Syrian students in Turkish public schools, we will examine in detail access to TECs to find out any shortcomings of these informal education institutions with regard to management and curricular issues. The literature shows that enrollment rate goes down dramatically as refugee students proceed tertiary education (UNHCR, 2017). In scrutinizing the challenges, we will categorize our findings across grades or age groups to understand level-specific barriers in Turkey which will be demonstrated through graphs and diagrams. The Turkish government has passed some laws to facilitate Syrian children’s access to educational services. To this end, we will investigate challenges in retrospect to distinguish whether these changes in policy level have reaped the expected benefits and showed any change in time. Lastly, we will explore the research methods executed in the included studies. Providing quality education to Syrian students not only concerns Turkish society but also the European Union. Hence, this study might contribute to literature and interest researchers in major refugee hosting European countries due to two main reasons. First and foremost, some of the educational services have been provided with cooperation with European Union as in the large-scale project called Promoting Integration of Syrian Children into Turkish Education System (PICTES). The second reason is the fact that Syrian people are mostly resettled in European countries or transit illegally by risking their lives. Empowering Syrian students through education will facilitate their inclusion to the new host societies and contribute to their human capital.
European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) (2018)


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Citation Formats
A. Atmacasoy and C. Engin Demir, “Challenges to inclusive education of Syrian students in Turkey,” presented at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) (2018), Bolzano, İtalya, 2018, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: