The European Union Facility for Refugees in Turkey recently granted 31.4 million euros to UNICEF for the continuing support of the most vulnerable refugee children in Turkey. The award supports the Education and Child Protection Programme for Vulnerable Syrian and Host Community Children in Turkey, and a conditional cash transfer for education program (CCTE). As Turkey continues to host refugees, access to education will remain a strong focus. Syrian refugees alone totals over 3.5 million in Turkey, with other refugees present as well. The international community should increase their support to assist Turkey in reaching their goal to have all school-aged children enrolled in classes
Turkey’s investment in vulnerable Syrian children’s education has an impact on the country’s own future, which is directly affected by the future of Syrian refugees. Turkey has put forth efforts to enroll the nearly one million Syrian children into schools, both in public schools and temporary education centers (TECs). The 2017-2018 school year has brought approximately 60% of the refugees to school. Turkey has spent millions on ensuring there is access to education and is continuing to see education as one of the top needs for refugees. As the Syrian conflict approaches 7 years, some children have been refugees in Turkey for half of their school-aged years.
The UNICEF’s education program works alongside the Turkish government to bring more inclusive education to vulnerable children. The grant provides funds to continue the use of TECs, to build new TECs, and to upgrade and furnish current TECs. The Turkish government has planned to transition the TECs to public schools in the next three years and the funding helps to alleviate some of Turkey’s financial burden. The funds also provide children with school materials, volunteers teachers with monthly training and incentives, and technical support for the Ministry of National Education. Funding allocates money for the conditional cash transfer for education program which provides monthly financial incentives to families for sending their children to school, as long as children attend regularly.
Turkey will continue to place high importance on access to the education system for all refugee children. The government has already established programs and processes that are proving to be successful. TECs have strongly supported Turkey’s efforts to enroll children into education programs. While TECs do not follow Turkish curriculum, they are providing the basis for Turkey to successfully and fully integrate children into the Turkish education system. Furthermore, supplying children with materials further offsets the financial burden of education to families under financial hardship. Training volunteer teachers allows Turkey to witness the teacher’s abilities and potentially establish a foundation for teachers to become eligible to teach in Turkey in the future. Lastly, providing technical support for the Ministry of National Education is crucial for the ministry to continue its work in enrolling all students into the education system and their goal to have all TECs permanent public schools in the future.
Funding for the aforementioned projects is crucial for Turkey to strengthen their education system capacity, but increased funding for programs like CCTE is critical for refugees under extreme financial hardships. The CCTE programs allows parents to be more financially stable, to afford schooling for their children, and to support the daily needs of their families. This, in turn, relieves the children of responsibilities to become breadwinners for the household.
There continue to be long-standing challenges that inhibit access to education. Language barrier is one of the greatest struggles for students. Parents worry about the curriculum, the financial burden, and sometimes lack of knowledge on how to enroll their kids into the school system. Open discussions should begin to acknowledge and address the concerns of the parents. Providing language courses in addition to the education curriculum would allow Syrian students to eventually participate in Turkish public school curriculum.
The Turkish Government in collaboration with international organizations, NGOs, and foreign governments should continue their commitment to provide all vulnerable children with access to education. Turkey has been flooded with refugees creating a large burden on the country, but their work to expand education facilities and opportunities for refugees will prove to be extremely beneficial in the future.
The UNICEF Representative to Turkey, Philippe Duamelle recognized the efforts of Turkey stating, “UNICEF is grateful for the efforts and leadership of the Government of Turkey on this issue and the generous financial support of the European Union.” Thus far over 600,000 children have enrolled in school, but another nearly 400,000 children still need to be assisted. The award alleviates some of the financial burden for Turkey, nevertheless much more funding is needed to successfully sustain the education plan for refugees in Turkey. Investing in their education will provide the refugees with the skills necessary to transition to life in Turkey as well as in Syria, if and when returning to their homeland becomes a possibility.
Programs like the UNICEF’s CCTE are important as they can provide critical support to specific segments of the refugee populations. At the same time, there needs to be more international involvement and financial support, as such programs are often dwarfed by the overall challenges faced by the host countries like Turkey.