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Syrian children are denied to effectively communicate in Turkish language due to COVID-19: What are the solutions?

Syrian students learning Turkish language at a Turkish school - 2018 (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed )

Syrian students learning Turkish language at a Turkish school - 2018 (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed )

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Turkey has adopted strict measures to fight coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, which prevents Fuad Abdullah’s two children, from going to their schools, which negatively affected their newly acquired language, Turkish. 

Abdullah, who lives in Istanbul, and has two children, in the second and fourth grades, told Enab Baladi that his children have been forced to stay home after schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, this has a significant impact on learning Turkish, especially on the younger one.

The closure of Turkish schools has had psychological, social, and health consequences, especially among Syrian children whose level of their educational and linguistic achievement has declined.

Abdullah attributed the reasons for Turkish’s decline to the lack of effective communication between his children, Turkish students, and their teachers, in addition to spending too much time on screens (distance education) does not provide them with this mechanism.

In addition to that, Abdullah’s wife does not master the Turkish language, and thus the complete absence of the language from the family environment made the children begin to forget it. 

This applies to several Syrian families who suffer from difficulties in learning Turkish, yet, some are doing their best to overcome this obstacle. 

Muhammad Ghazi, who holds a Ph.D. from the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering, told Enab Baladi that the Turkish language of his daughter Tasnim (in KG 2) and son Ghazi (in the second grade) was not affected adversely because they speak Turkish as their mother tongue.

Ghazi added that his children speak Turkish while playing with each other at home, noting that they are surrounded by the Turkish language, such as watching Turkish TV, and YouTube videos, and playing games.

However, Ghazi stressed that his children’s academic instructional levels are no longer the same as before, primarily when his two children used to go to their school on a daily basis.

He talked about the difference between online and traditional learning, saying, “If my children went to school, they would gain more information and new Turkish vocabularies from their Turkish classmates and teachers.”

Students are enrolled in higher classes officially?!

The Turkish Ministry of National Education announced that the students’ marks in the first semester of the 2019-2020 academic year will identify if they are eligible to move into the next class. 

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency quoted the Turkish Minister of Education, Zia Seljuk, on 29 April as saying that students “will be allowed to  move on to the next class regardless of grade point average.”

On 23 March, the ministry launched the “TRT-EBA” television network, which includes three channels that provide school lessons for the primary, secondary, and high school students in addition to a website for “distance” education.

Muhammad Ghazi told Enab Baladi that he will not enroll his two children in language enrichment programs, because his son was ranked first in his school, and he was not much affected by the closure of schools due to the coronavirus lockdown.

On the other hand, Fuad Abdullah began searching for specialized centers to integrate his children into Turkish society further, as well as for private Turkish language tutors to help his children catch up on teaching missed, both linguistically and informatively, because they were enrolled only a year ago in Turkish schools, and they were only able to master the language by 60 percent.

Specialists put points on the board

Orhan Oğuz, professor at the Department of Turkish Language and Literature at the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk University in Hatay Turkish State, spoke to Enab Baladi saying that exposure to and use of the target language are very crucial for those who want to learn and speak a foreign language in general.

“Online learning” deprived Syrian students of a natural environment in which they learn the Turkish language, and communicate with their Turkish friends, an environment that allows them to improve their language skills and better understand the topics.

The Syrian specialist in psychological counseling, Omar al-Nimr, explained in an interview with Enab Baladi, “The reasons why students forget the Turkish language after they were cut off from the environmental milieu of the language in the school. First, students are following bad study methods, and experiencing stress along with their families due to the coronavirus lockdown.”

Students adopt lousy study habits, such as relying only on attending and listening (online learning) to lessons passively. They do not have skills and attitudes towards learning for successful independent study, and they do not follow a study plane or set study priorities. They spend most of their time using social media platforms, surfing the internet for news, and playing video games at home. This can result in insomnia, disrupted sleep, sports, and eating disorders. 

The general atmosphere at homes appeared to be very tense throughout the coronavirus crisis, where all family members gathered, showing adverse reactions about the news of the virus, in addition to fear and panic that may dominate the entire house. Some parents fail to organize time, which results in chaos and boredom among children, especially if the house is small and does not have an appropriate space for the child.

Also, many children do not have distance education devices, such as “laptop” or “mobile phone.” Some are not good at using them as a substitute for the teacher who was impossible to meet with.

According to al-Nimr, all these factors together create psychological and social obstacles to the students’ adaptation to studying from home, amid the absence of the teacher and external supervision. The student is left alone to control his time, avoid being distracted, and stay motivated while studying. The student’s parents, in fact, cannot provide help because of the language barrier, and they are not familiar with e-learning means. 

Moreover, it is very reasonable that any newly acquired language that is not used repeatedly will fade away, and its vocabulary words will be forgotten quickly. But, the child can bridge this gap soonas he penetrated the language barrier forcefully the first time if the children and their parents take the following pieces of advice provided by the specialist Omar al-Nimr.

  • Comprehension and then memorization actively maintain vocabulary and information for a more extended period of time. 
  • Studying the topics in an integrated manner, divide them into interconnected parts, and link the new information with the old one, which facilitates the process of remembering.
  • Living a healthy lifestyle is a key factor in strengthening memory, such as getting a good night’s sleep, eating balanced meals, playing sports, reinforcing a positive psychological balance, and interacting with the surrounding environment.
  • Engaging more than one sense in the learning process proves its effectiveness. It is shown that people remember 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 80 of what they say, and 90 of what they say and do. 
  • One of the essential strategies that consolidate Syrian students’ vocabulary knowledge is through using the learned vocabulary words in all their activities, including reading, writing, hearing, speaking, and playing.

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.

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.

 

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