Under Turkish law, “basic education” for children consists of 12 years, divided into 3 levels of 4 years each. All children in Turkish jurisdiction, including foreign nationals, have the right to access “basic education” services delivered by public schools. All children registered as temporary protection beneficiaries have the right to be registered at public schools for the purpose of basic education.
Public schools in Turkey are free of charge. They instruct in Turkish and teach a standardised Ministry of National Education curriculum, and are authorised to dispense certificates and diplomas to foreign national children with full validity.
In order to enrol in public schools, children and their parents need to have Temporary Protection Beneficiary Identification Cards. Children who are not yet registered can be temporarily enrolled as a “guest student” which means that they can attend classes but will not be provided any documentation or diploma in return, unless they subsequently complete their temporary protection registration and are officially admitted by the school.
Where a foreign national child is enrolled at public schools, the Provincial Directorate of National Education is responsible for examining and assessing the former educational background of the student and determine to which grade-level the child should be registered. In case there is no documentation regarding the past educational background, the Provincial Directorate shall conduct necessary tests and interviews to assess the appropriate grade-level to which student shall be assigned. In mid-2018, the Ministry of National Education launched an Accelerated Learning Programme (Hızlandırılmış Eğitim Programı, HEP) to reach children aged 10-18 who have missed three or more years of schooling. The programme runs in 12 provinces. The programme had reached 10,894 children by mid-2019. In 2020 a tender was released for bids to help develop an online Accelerated Learning Programme after the impact of COVID-19 and a year of online schooling for children in Turkey.
The Ministry of National Education is building 129 new schools with EU funding under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, to increase the enrolment rate. Another 55 schools were planned to be built by 2021 with World Bank funding. As of March 2021 an EU update showed that this work was ongoing with at least one school finalised and others underway.
The education response in Turkey is led and coordinated by the Ministry of National Education. The numbers of Syrian children enrolled in formal education continues to increase. At the start of the 2019/20 school year, 684,253 Syrian children under temporary protection were enrolled in Turkish public schools and temporary education centres, representing 63 per cent of school-aged Syrian children.
However, according to an UNESCO report, the number of additional teachers that would be needed to cover the entire population of Syrian refugee children of school age is as high as 80,000. UNICEF estimates as many as 400,000 children out of school. Drop-out rates, particularly at high school level, are linked to factors such as the high level of child labour in the job market, as well as early marriages. Bullying at schools is still a huge unresolved problem. Fear of deportation also has an impact on access to school, affecting around 8,500 children in Bursa, for example. At the same time, the rate of discrimination, prejudice and bullying remains high in public schools, both from fellow pupils and teachers. Refugee children are not offered additional Turkish language classes so as to be able to follow the curriculum effectively.
To ensure children’s access to the education system, another programme, Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE), is financed by ECHO and implemented through a close partnership between the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, the Ministry of National Education, AFAD, Türk Kızılay and UNICEF. The CCTE programme provides vulnerable refugee families with bimonthly cash payments to help them send and keep their children in school (see Social Welfare). Cash assistance is available only for persons who can submit the school registration documents to the social service units of the Ministry. A family can receive payment provided the child attends school regularly; a child should not miss school more than 4 days in one month. According to Türk Kızılay, in cases were a child has not attended school for over 4 days, their protection officers visit the family to identify the cause of absence; child labour, child marriage, peer bullying are the most common factors. According to observations from practice, CCTE has been more effective at elementary school level.
In addition, the PIKTES (Project on Promoting Integration of Syrian Kids into the Turkish Education System) is a European Union funded project implemented by the Turkish Ministry of National Education. It aims to increase the integration of Syrian children, access to quality education and increasing the enrolment and attendance rates of Syrian children and youth in quality formal education. In early 2020, UNICEF, SGDD-ASAM and the Ministry of National Education launched the ‘Assistance Programme for Registration to Schools’(Okula Kayit Icin Destek Programi) aiming to reach out to 65,000 Syrian students aged between 5-17 at risk of leaving the education system.
In 2019, the Ministry of National Education opened ‘social cohesion courses’ where students can learn about different cultures and daily life in Turkey.
Türk Kizilay Community Centre, Urfa has been following the situation of around 90 Syrian children dropping out school per month and the community centre tries to understand the real reasons behind their non-attendance at school. It is often due to early marriage of girls and boys being forced into child labour . There are social cohesion classes at schools in Urfa. They give regular trainings at schools on peer bullying, non-discriminatory practices, rights of children, hygiene and social cohesion. Also, they provide psychological support and regular health checks for students.
More generally, experts estimate lack of education as a common feature among the Syrian population in Turkey. According to a survey, 33% of respondents reported to be illiterate, while another 13% reported to be literate without having attended school.
In 2020, schools were closed for long periods during the COVID-19 pandemic and education shifted to distance-learning that could be accessed through a TV or other device. This affected all children but disproportionately affected those without a device or room to study. Refugee children, especially young girls’ education was affected by the pandemic to a great extent. A study in Izmir of 300 women found that only 53.5% of Syrian refugee girls had access to a suitable environment for study. As of April 2021 schools were still closed for the majority of children. Access to long distance education (EBA) is still problematic. Some ongoing EU programmes have been redesigned. For example, student support packages (meal packages ect.) for students could not be used for students since they could not go to schools in 2020. Some of these funds will be allocated towards buying new tablets and electronic devices for students.
Among Syrians nomadic agricultural workers, their children’s participation in distance education was close to 0% from research conducted in Adana, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa, although previously it was very low too. In Adana, as for all seasonal agricultural workers, children only attended school when they were physically close to a school and it is the same for nomadic / semi-nomadic groups.
Temporary Education Centres (GEM)
The Ministry of National Education Circular 2014/21 on “Education Services for Foreign Nationals” of 23 September 2014 introduced the concept of Temporary Education Centre (Geçici Eğitim Merkezi, GEM) and provided a legal framework for the supervision and monitoring of the aforementioned private schools run by Syrian charities – which had hitherto existed outside the regulatory framework of the Ministry of National Education and were therefore unlawful but tolerated by the provincial authorities. GEM are specifically defined as schools established and run for the purpose of providing educational services to persons arriving in Turkey for temporary period as part of a mass influx.
By and large, the children accommodated in the camps have unimpeded and virtually full access to basic education mainly at GEM administered inside the camps. On the other hand, children of school age outside the camps, had the option of either attending a public school in the locality, which teach the Turkish school curriculum and instruct in Turkish, or a GEM.
In 2018 there were approximately 1,000 Turkish and 11,500 volunteer Syrian teachers in GEM. UNICEF provides financial assistance to 10,000 volunteer Syrian teachers. In this context, a fee of 600 TL / €120 per month is paid to the teachers in Temporary Accommodation Centres and 900 TL per month is paid to those working outside camps. The remaining 1,500 volunteer teachers are financially supported by NGOs.
Such private Syrian schools are generally not free. They charge students varying amounts of fees. It remains unclear what legal validity any diplomas or certificates issued by the temporary education centres will have going forward, while the Provincial Directorate of National Education authorities are authorised to determine such questions if and where the child is subsequently admitted to a public school or a university in Turkey. Another challenge concerns the quality of education provided in GEM, since courses are taught by Syrian teachers, often volunteers, who are in need of remuneration and professionalisation.
The Ministry of National Education has planned a gradual-phase out of the GEM. From September 2016 onwards, all Syrian children entering kindergarten or first grade have to be enrolled in Turkish schools and not GEM. The Ministry of National Education has also encouraged children entering fifth and ninth grade to register at Turkish schools.
As of 2019 there were 199 GEMs in 11 provinces educating 39,178 Syrian children. For some stakeholders, the closure of GEM is carried out too rapidly and will lead to difficulties for teachers in handling curricula to mixed classes of Turkish and Syrian children. The final GEM closed in 2020.
Temporary protection beneficiaries also have the right to higher education in Turkey. In order to apply and register with an institution of higher education, students are required to have completed either the 12 years of Turkish basic education or equivalent experience. Children who have attended a certified GEM can also be approved to have fulfilled that requirement on the basis of the equivalence determination carried out by the competent Provincial Directorate of National Education.
In Turkey, admission to universities is subject to the requirement of taking a standardised university entrance examination and additional requirements by each university. Students who started their university studies in Syria but were not able to complete them, may ask universities to recognise the credits (courses) that they have passed. The decision whether to recognise courses passed in Syria is made by each university and may differ from one department to another. Sometimes there can be problems in the recognition of previous education including qualifications. Studies in GEMs can also be in Arabic and there can be more general language problems.
Tuition fees for Syrian students are covered by the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı, YTB) for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years for state universities; this is not the case for private universities. Students will still need to cover the costs of local transportation, books and living expenses. There are a number of organisations providing scholarships to Syrian students for higher education study in Turkey. These organisations include: YTB, UNHCR through the DAFI scholarship programme, and NGOs (e.g. SPARK). Scholarships awarded through YTB and DAFI cover the costs of tuition and pay students a monthly allowance for accommodation and living expenses.
According to statistics of the Council of Higher Education, the number of enrolled Syrian students in Turkish higher education institutions rose to 33,000 Syrians in the 2019/20 academic year. According to the Directorate on Life-Long Learning 599,475 Syrians benefitted from vocational and other trainings by the State in 2019. In 2020 UNHCR worked with the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) to provide university scholarships for refugee students as well as institutional capacity support. For the academic year 2020-2021, UNHCR contributed to the tertiary education of 744 students under temporary protection and 70 students of other nationalities through higher education scholarship programmes in coordination with YTB. UNHCR also supported 475 university students through semester cash grants to support students who cannot benefit from the fee waiver that exists for Syrian nationals. Meanwhile, UNHCR continued to advocate for the waiver of higher education fees for international protection students.
Temporary protection beneficiaries, regardless of their age, can also benefit from free of charge language education courses as well as vocational courses offered by Public Education Centres structured under each Provincial Directorate of National Education. Some NGOs also provide free language courses and vocational courses to temporary protection beneficiaries in some localities.
Türk Kızılay has 16 community centres including a new centre in Kocaeli. In March 2019 Türk Kızılay also started an Adult Language Training Programme (ALT) together with the Ministry of National Education and UNDP aiming to provide Turkish language assistance to Syrians to help them into employment. Funded through the EU Trust Fund the programme aims to provide 52,000 people in ten provinces with language lessons. Participants are paid €0.9 per hour to attend three hours a day, three days a week. The Vocational Course Incentive also provides incentive payments for beneficiaries’ vocational training in different sectors such as food, textile, service, agriculture and animal husbandry as well as courses requiring technical expertise and craftsmanship. Participation in vocational courses is supported with 40 TL or 60 TL per day and those who attend the Turkish Language Courses are entitled to 180 TL per month. Community Centres organize various courses and activities for the beneficiaries to improve their life skills. Community Centres also provide certification approved by the General Directorate of Life Long Learning of the Ministry of National Education at the end of vocational courses. As of January 2020, 45,927 people had benefitted from different vocational courses and training. This included 32,684 people who attended courses, and 13,243 people who found employment. 
Türk Kizilay Community Centre in Urfa has several projects on livelihoods. They provide special training and employment opportunities depending on the situation in the city that beneficiaries live in. For instance, they are accepting new applications for greenhouse trainings in Urfa. They have also opened a gastronomy academy in Harran in close cooperation with the Governorate. They are running a joint project with TOBB (Union of Chambers and Stock Markets in Turkey) to grant 50 000 TL (around 8 000 EUR) to 10 Syrian entrepreneurs in very diverse areas ranging from agriculture to 3-D printing. They are going to launch a new Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) project with the Municipality on coding and programming for young Syrian girls and boys.
 See UNICEF, Online Accelerated Learning Programme Development, October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3fl7J8p.
 UNHCR, Turkey: Operational Highlights, 2019.
 UNICEF, Turkey Humanitarian Situation Report, January – March 2019, 1.
 Children in the agricultural sector are not enrolled at school, for example: Information provided by Development Workshop, February 2019.
 Information provided by a stakeholder in Gaziantep, February 2020 and Dr Ali Zafer Sarıoğlu, Migration Policy Centre, Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, January 2019.
Information provided by a stakeholder in Gaziantep, February 2020.
 European Commission, ‘In Turkey, the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education programme increases school attendance of Syrian and other refugee children’, 13 February 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2GaW25O.
 Information provided by Türk Kızılay, February 2019.
 Information provided by Dr Ali Zafer Sarıoğlu, Migration Policy Centre, Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, January 2019.
 Information provided by Türk Kızılay Community Centre, Urfa, February 2020.
 Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.
 Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.
 Grand National Assembly, Göç ve Uyum Raporu, March 2018.
 Information provided by a lawyer of the Adana Bar Association, February 2018; Information provided by an NGO, February 2019.
 Hürriyet, ‘Gov’t directs Syrian refugee children to Turkish schools’, 3 September 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2FqqVhs. See also International Crisis Group, Turkey’s Syrian refugees: Defusing metropolitan tensions, January 2018, 18.
 ERG, Öğrenciler ve eğitime erişim izleme raporu, Eğitim izleme raporu, 2019.
 Information provided by Bosphorus Migration Studies, January 2019.
 A Barişçil, Refugee students in the Turkish higher education in the light of the Syrian conflict, 2019, 135.
 See, TC Milli Eğitim Bakanliği Hayat Boyu Öğrenme Genel Müdürlüğü Göç ve Acil Durum Eğitim Daire Başkanlığı, January 2020.
 Information provided by Türk Kızılay, February 2020.
 Information from Türk Kızılay, February 2020.
 Türk Kızılay, Syrian Crisis Humanitarian Relief Operation, January 2020.