Arabic Slipping Away from Syrian Children in Turkey
Raneem Bakir | Practice Training Program
Thousands of Syrian children attend classes in Turkish schools along with Turkish students; there, they communicate using a language different from their parents’ and receive their education in Turkish, which affected a massive number of them, particularly younger ones, causing them a gradual loss of the flexible deployment of Arabic.
The “Integration” decision, applied by the Turkish government two years ago, resulted in a critical deterioration in the mastery of Arabic among children, especially since the Arab schools licensed in Turkey are very costly for the majority of the families, which are, thus, forced to enroll their students in Turkish governmental schools for free.
On October 3, 2016, the Turkish Ministry of Education made a resolution, providing for the integration of the Syrian children under the law of temporary protection into Turkish schools, necessitating that the students who are studying the curricula of the Syrian Interim Government move to the Turkish governmental schools.
Process of Integration
In Turkey, there are 976.200 Syrians at the age of education, according to the last year’s statements of the Turkish Minister of Education İsmet Yılmaz, out of 3.65 million Syrians in Turkey, as shown by the figures of the Turkish Department of Immigration.
Most of the Syrian students are in Turkish governmental schools while the rest are yet receiving their education in the Syrian interim educational centers, which the Turkish government supervises.
In 2018, talking to Anadolu Agency, Levent Yazıcı the Director of the Department of Education in Istanbul, said that there are 78 thousand and 357 Syrian students in the Turkish governmental schools, while there are 8 thousand and 797 students in the Syrian interim educational centers.
This process of integration has negatively affected thousands of Syrian students’ skills at reading and writing Arabic, and sometimes speaking it, for even at the Syrian interim centers, students are being taught Turkish besides Arabic.
Ausama Hanafi, the Assistant Director of the Syrian interim school “Haluk Underger Gem Lesisi”, affiliated with the Turkish Ministry of Education in Istanbul, told “Practice” that the inflating fluency of Arabic among Syrian children in Turkey is due to two reasons: The first is the downsizing of school hours taught in Arabic to 50% after the Turkish Department of Education started supervising the Syrian interim schools, for there are 30 weekly school hours, 15 of which are allocated for teaching Turkish, while the remaining 15 hours are left for instructing the Arabic curriculum.
The second reason, however, is canceling the usage of Arabic as a language of instruction in the elementary school gradually, where the students will be reaching the end of this school year with no trace of Arabic left.
Children Speak Turkish and Parents Resist
Najwa Barakat, a Syrian woman based in Istanbul, told “Practice” that her tow sons cannot speak or write in Arabic, because they are studying in Turkish governmental schools.
She added that she could not enroll her children in schools that teach Arabic curricula due to their high costs, which necessitated that she sends them to Arabic language and Quran free courses during the summer break.
Refusing to reveal her full name for personal considerations, Umm Laith, a Syrian woman who lives in Istanbul with her two sons, said that her dilemma is like Najwa’s, for she chose to send her children to a free Turkish governmental school, because of the expensive payments demanded by the private Arabic curriculum schools.
Umm Laith is compensating this linguistic gap, suffered by her children, with courses, because she believes that children can easily acquire a language at childhood.
For her part, Rima al-Ghoush, a mother of three and based in Istanbul as well, thinks that it is only normal for her children’s Arabic language skills to deteriorate after they enrolled in Turkish schools, but the greatest impact would affect the grammar of Arabic, not the spoken language and that is because “Arabic is essential in their lives and house, and it is the language of the Quran and their mother tongue.”
Abeer Nahass, the founder of the “Azraq Publishing House”, concerned with children and women, said that the lack of children’s knowledge of Arabic, especially those who are at the age of kindergarten who suddenly enrolled in the Turkish schools is surprising.
“Our children rarely know how to write and read in Arabic. They speak Arabic, but they are unaware of the terminologies,” she added.
Telling “Practice”, al-Nahass added that there are children who use Arabic, mixing it with a few Turkish words, because they do not know their Arabic synonyms.
Al-Nahass said that such changes are expected, but not this fast and they should have happened with the generations to come, adding that children who cannot read Arabic, would not be capable of knowing their history and the geography of their homeland.
Gufran Rihan, a children literature specialist, agrees with Abeer al-Nahass, stressing that the integration of Syrian students into the Turkish school has negatively affected their Arabic, for the lack of its academic practice and using Turkish at home will, in time, weaken their Arabic fluency and skills.
She added that children’s mastery of Arabic is not that bad today, but in ten years it will get weaker, one generation after the other. This is mostly happening with parents who do not show enough interest in Arabic around their children to overcome this challenge.
Averting the Risk
Ausama Hanafi, Assistant Director of the Haluk Underger Gem Lesisi, said that there are many solutions to overcome the children’s weakening capacity at using Arabic, one of which is courses that a group of teachers is holding to target the students of elementary school, in particular, those studying in Turkish schools.
He pointed out to the necessity of instilling the love of the Arabic language in children at an early stage, starting from the point where they are three years old, through sending them to Arabic speaking kindergartens. This period is sufficient to teach them the basics of the language, after which the parents will have to do a follow-up.
He added that the Syrian teachers are already conducting courses for teaching the fundamentals of Arabic to children of low-income families.
In her interview with “Practice”, Gufran Rihan, a researcher and a specialist in children literature, has proposed additional solutions to addressing the deterioration of Arabic language acquisition among Syrian children. At a family level, there are many steps that can help children preserve the knowledge of this language, such as speaking standard Arabic at home every now and then and watching animated cartoons which deploy proper Arabic.
She also advised parents to encourage their children to write and express themselves and to make Arabic more appealing to them through songs and poems and helping them memorize the holy Quran for the impression it has on them.
At a social level, Rihan suggested that children be offered the right tools of learning Arabic, such as institutes, centers and schools either for free or for nominal fees, in addition to motivating children to love Arabic through theater and events, Quran and poetry contests and issuing magazines, stories and booklets.