Aynur Tekin / DUVAR

Syrian refugee children in Turkey have been facing difficulties in accessing distance education during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Schools were closed and students continued their education through online distance education programs after Turkey reported its first coronavirus case on March 11.

However, all students do not have equal access to this education. Since many lack the necessary technological equipment to continue their education and live in crowded households, Syrian refugee children are among those who have limited access. 

According to statistics from Turkey’s Immigration Authority, there are nearly 3.5 million Syrians living in Turkey. Figures from the Ministry of National Education indicate that 1,082,172 of these Syrians are of school age. However, just 63.29 percent of these students are going to school. 

In 2014-2015, the number of Syrian refugee students stood at 230,000. By 2019-2020, this figure increased to 684,919. While 90 percent of Syrian students have registered for elementary school, 70 percent have registered for middle school and only 32.55 percent attend high school, largely owing to the fact that many of these young Syrians are forced to work to provide for their families. 

Lack of computers and televisions

A number of local civil society organizations met with 25 Syrian children in the district of Fatih, which has one of the highest populations of Syrian refugees in Istanbul. 

According to these children, one of the main obstacles to continuing their education via online systems includes the lack of televisions or computers in their homes, while those who had access to such devices had difficulty following their classes due to the crowded nature of their homes, which are often shared by one or more large families. 

Another issue is the fact that many of the children have limited Turkish language abilities and are unable to receive support from their parents for improving their Turkish.  

According to researcher Merve Mert from the Education Reform Initiative, the epidemic has resulted in large numbers of people losing their jobs or being put on unpaid leave. This has directly affected refugees working informally or for daily wages and has changed the family structure, presenting a risk for children’s access to education. 

“Girls are looking after their siblings and contributing to cleaning and domestic duties, boys are expected to contribute to the income of the household. This situation prevents children from accessing services, and child labor increases the risk of abandoning education early on,” Mert said. 

Among the initiatives being taken to ameliorate the situation is UNICEF’s distributing of information to families regarding health and education. A number of civil society organizations are producing content in Arabic for Syrian children and providing support. 

Mert said that the further steps that need to be taken include providing education in different languages, ensuring access to devices such as televisions, tablets and computers, providing cheap or free internet access to the public, and establishing mechanisms to prevent children from losing their existing Turkish language abilities.