Moving Beyond Access: Integration of Syrian Refugee Students into Turkish Public Schools
In the context of contemplating the interplay between public education and refugee integration in a host country setting, this qualitative multi-site case study is designed to reveal the kinds of challenges and needs of the school staff regarding the inclusion of Syrian students in public schools, and the types of strategies they employed to overcome these challenges. By examining the practices and policies of three Turkish primary public schools located in the city center of Bursa province through 20 interviews and 11 classroom observations, the underlying goals of this study were to determine the preparedness of schools for meeting the needs of refugee learners and to contribute to the literature on education in emergencies. The study finds that the school staff were faced with multifaceted challenges that included: language, communication and socio-economic barriers; lack of support from the government; and behavioral challenges among Syrian students. Further, the findings document that teaching and learning approaches that respect a range of pedagogical practices, mixed seating arrangements, balanced grade placement, and group activities, all contribute to the socio-cultural integration of refugee students. The study provides evidence that even though the conditions were not given to provide smooth integration of refugee students into schools, strong school leaders together with caring and dedicated teachers and an engaged community can find ways to tackle challenges and create positive learning environments for all members of the school community that foster the larger integration process. Amidst the phasing out of the Temporary Education Centers (TECs) by the end of 2019, this study’s findings point to the critical need for additional teacher training, particularly on second-language acquisition strategies, harmful practices in refugee education, psychosocial support, and inclusive classroom management skills.