Challenges encountered by Syrian refugee students in Turkey’s distance-learning system
Enab Baladi – Khawla Hefzi
The Syrian students and their families in Turkey face additional difficulties after the sudden shift from the traditional face-to-face classrooms to online learning, following the temporary closure of schools as part of preventive measures to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus,(COVID-19).
More than one month has passed since digital learning came into force in Turkey. During this period, many problems of online classes and distance learning came out mainly among students, which opened the door to questions and doubts about the effectiveness of remote learning and whether it can replace traditional classrooms and adopt it as an alternative solution in the coronavirus crisis.
Awatif al-Bedawi, a Syrian woman residing in Turkey, recounted her daughter’s online learning experience. She said, “my daughter’s Turkish language is getting worse because she lost the ability to communicate with her Turkish peers as her Turkish was improving through interaction and integration with her Turkish peers and classroom activities under the supervision of the teacher within the class.”
The third-grade student has trouble understanding the lessons, according to her mother, who said that the situation has become “very difficult” because she is not fluent in the Turkish language and cannot help her daughter with school work. Thus, the daughter has been left to fend for herself with no assistance.
Al-Bedawi added, “my daughter, for the time being, follows her lessons on a daily basis on her own, so she reads, does her homework through educational TV channels. Yet, I do not know if the solutions to her homework’s questions are right or wrong.”
On 23 March, the Turkish Ministry of Education initiated TV-based remote learning for nearly 18 million primary, secondary and high-school students.
Distance learning is broadcast at three channels provided by the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and Education Informatics Network (EBA). The TRT-EBA TV airs school lessons for the primary, secondary, and high school students through separate channels, which is supported by the digital EBA system.
Nearly 685,000 Syrian students are enrolled in the Turkish education system during the current school year (2019-2020), which is more than 63 percent of the total number of Syrian children who have reached school age (5-17) in Turkey.
Loss of social skills
Katia Aksoy, a mother of a first-grade student, considered that distance education constitutes a “big challenge,” especially since the first stage of basic school is viewed as a foundation in any children’s academic careers. She added, “the mother will not be able to provide the information efficiently as the teacher does.”
During the past school year, the total number of enrolled Syrian students in primary schools in Turkey reached about 340,000. As for the current year, 90 percent of Syrian school-age children attended primary schools across the country, the highest schooling rate among all levels.
Speaking to Enab Baladi, Aksoy pointed out that her child has not gained any new information and skills at the current stage of education, which was limited to classroom exercises and training to what was previously taught in the first semester.
She considers that the children have lost the “collective experience”, and the place to discharge their energy is no longer available, as the schoolyard was an exciting place to spend some time and play.
Bayan al-Jassem, a school guidance counselor at a Turkish school in Istanbul, shares the same opinion of Aksoy; she talked about the difficulty of building students’ social skills and channeling their energy in an online learning system. The children are active and energetic, and they need a place to vent their energy and calm their minds.
The Syrian social worker Nada al-Fawal reinforces the two previous views and considers that distance education mode deprives children of using several skills at the same time and lacks eye-contact. Children feel bored as if they are watching a boring documentary film.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Fawal says that e-learning is one of the building blocks of developing social and communication skills with others. Besides, there is a loss of competition between children, which is an important catalyst to enhance the educational process.
Enab Baladi contacted some students’ parents, and they all agreed that their children’s teachers have different strategies in terms of communication, teachers’ homework follow-up practices on students’ performance, interest, and ensuring that the information was received correctly.
Katia Aksoy, for instance, said that her son’s teacher was “very cooperative.” The teacher assigns homework to her son daily using “WhatsApp.” Then, he makes comments when an assignment is submitted, and he also hosts a video conference with his students from time to time.
Awatif al-Bedawi assured that her daughter’s teacher “does not communicate or meet with her student virtually, nor does she ask if she needs further clarification or additional information on a certain school subject, but rather she lets the parents take the full responsibility.”
The Turkish Ministry of Education has not announced any mandatory procedures for teachers to follow the educational process remotely with their students, nor has it established clear criteria for assessing the success of the entirely new e-learning experience about the state education system.
Turkey is together with the countries with a well-developed ICT (information and communication technology) infrastructures in facing the many daunting challenges mentioned previously about the implementation of the distance learning in times of the coronavirus. It is evident that teachers need lots of training to do remote learning well.
Conducive learning environment
Although Turkey was ranked second in the world in the field of distance education, the sudden shifts to e-learning was a surprise for teachers, parents, and students. They were not well-prepared for that, Bayan al-Jassem, the school guidance counselor, told Enab Baladi.
Al-Jassem believes that the greatest difficulty encountered by parents is to create an appropriate learning environment for their children and to persuade them that the academic year is not over yet and that they have to study and take things seriously in order to get success.
One of the parents should serve full time to facilitate the e-learning process for their children. He/she has to have plenty of knowledge to use digital learning platforms, according to the school guidance counselor.
As for the social worker Nada al-Fawal, she considered that the follow-up of the lessons is the responsibility of the parents. The parents should make sure that the child attends the lessons on a daily basis, and solve the classroom exercises that the teacher sends through the applications, and to ensure that the child is mentally present while giving the lessons.
In fact, in a physical classroom, the mental alertness of the students improves. The students interact face to face with classmates and teachers. They receive verbal feedback from their teachers directly, and they develop the intellectual skills that help them memorize the information and project it to reality and link it to a situation or experience that helps them remember it later.
According to al-Fawal, distance education is merely sending information and indoctrination to the child free of discussion. In online learning, if the child cannot understand something directly, it may be difficult for him to compensate it later, according to the social worker.
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