Learning the language of the host country is a priority for integrating refugees. As such, Turkey — which hosts about 976,000 school-age Syrian refugees — has begun implementing projects to help them learn Turkish in primary schools.
The Education Ministry’s new mobile app “Guess What” is one of them, focusing on learning Turkish in an entertaining way via an educative game. The game focuses on the main concepts and words that Syrian refugee children often face in their daily lives.
It categorizes them under broad concepts such as hospitals, schools, houses, animals, fruit and vegetables in order to develop children’s visual, auditory and conceptual skills.
The mobile app is accessible via Google Playstore and Turkey’s Educational Informatics Network’s Store (EBA Dukkan), and will soon be incorporated into the App Store. The ministry said it will continue developing similar games that ease the integration process.
Experts say the language barrier often stands in refugee children’s way in terms of integrating into the host society.
A circular issued in 2015 gave Syrian children the right to become enrolled in state schools or “temporary education centers” where the Syrian curriculum is provided in Arabic. But last year, Turkey began phasing out this dual system, favoring the entry of Syrian children in state schools where a mixed education system prevails.
“Such mobile apps have been tried out in countries like Belgium with promising results,” Gulseli Baysu, an expert on social psychology from Istanbul Kadir Has University, told Arab News.
“Failure or lack of integration cause many problems. Problems many western European societies face now with immigrants who are less educated and alienated may be our problems in the future.”
Alienation among migrant children affects societal cohesion in general, Baysu said. “Moreover, it’s a loss of qualified human capital for the labor force.”
There are many challenges facing researchers and policymakers, such as many Syrian children working in the black market to support their families, who may not be convinced of the need to send them to school, she added.
Turkey hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, and about half of those who are school age are missing out on an education.
Metin Corabatir, former spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey and president of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration in Ankara, told Arab News: “Such practical and technological apps are beneficial for solving the current difficulties in schools in Turkey, where Syrian refugee children have serious difficulties in following the curriculum in Turkish.”
Based on field studies he carried out, Corabatir said the lack of integration of Syrian children in schools often results in peer pressure and bullying, leading to segregation.
“The more they know and speak Turkish, the more they’ll be part of society and communicate with their peers,” he added.
“With no end in sight in the near future for the Syrian conflict, these children will stay in Turkey for some time, so they need to have dialogue with society.”