“This is not a school break or holiday”: Syrian refugee students in Turkey during Covid-19
Syrian refugees in Turkey are not a monolithic community, and Syrian refugee children have diverse educational needs, resources, and attainments that may fail any centralized short-term education policies. Taking these core aspects into regard throughout my research, I explore determinants of the second language proficiency of refugee students in monolingual countries.
On 12 March 2020, I was visiting a Turkish public school in Istanbul’s slums to conduct classroom observations and interviews with teachers regarding language education for refugee students. Despite having only one officially confirmed Covid-19 case in Turkey, teachers were anxious for the unrecognized spread of the virus and were expecting a national lockdown with immediate school closures.
That afternoon, National Education Minister Ziya Selçuk announced nationwide school closures with a distance learning roadmap and heralded his oft-quoted statement: “This is not a school break or holiday.” Initiated on 23 March, the country’s emergency distance education scheme aims to support 18 million K-12 students via regular lessons broadcasted over three newly established TV channels; online learning through the Education Information Network (EBA), a state-sponsored distance learning platform managed by the Ministry of National Education (MONE); and additional live lessons for 8th graders and 12th graders on the EBA platform. To attempt bridging the digital divide, major mobile operators are offering free data access ranging from 5 to 8 GB that can facilitate students’ access to the EBA platform. School closures have now been extended until the end of May, and the Ministry has recently announced that students will be automatically promoted to the next grade and supported with catch-up and remedial courses in the fall semester.