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Press Centre (3/2017)

Syrian teachers improve their teaching skills in Turkey

Osama Ayat, a Syrian refugee is not only a teacher but also a teacher trainer. In this class he focused on professional ethics. Photo Credit: © UNICEF Turkey/2017/Lorch
By Donatella Lorch / UNICEF

ANKARA, 26 March 2017– Osama Ayat leads his class like an orchestra conductor, his long arms sweeping out and up to make points as he strides across the room from door to window and back again.
Just 28, Osama, a Syrian refugee, is not only a teacher but also a trainer. His 30-some students, sitting on narrow, old-style wooden benches, are all Syrian teachers. This particular class focused on professional ethics and behavior. The debate ranged from corruption to the art of managing an overcrowded classroom.
“You must teach and treat everyone equally,” cautioned Osama, “Teaching is a profession of love and loyalty.  Do not abuse your position of authority. Do not cross that red line.”
About 250 Syrian refugees were attending this 10-day course in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. Trainings were taking place simultaneously in 21 provinces targeting an estimated 20,500 volunteer teachers. This is the second phase of a program led by Turkey’s Ministry of National Education (MoNE) partnering with UNICEF and aimed at teaching pedagogic skills in line with Turkish teacher training standards.
Topics include developmental psychology, professional ethics and counseling. Graduating teachers receive a certificate from MoNE indicating they have the required skills to provide quality education for Syrian children in Turkey.
“These classes are very useful,” said Futoun Nawlo, 42, who had been a high school teacher for 11 years in Aleppo. She appreciated Osama’s focus on how to communicate with school authorities and help students with special needs. But Futoun also saw this as an opportunity to rebuild her identity. “We don’t want to live from charity, we want to live and work in dignity.”
More than 490,000 Syrian refugee children are enrolled in school in Turkey, a 50% increase from the end of 2015-2016. However, an estimated 370,000 Syrian children remain out of school. Many children attend UNICEF-supported Temporary Education Centers (TECs) where classes are in Arabic and follow a Syrian adjusted curriculum taught by Syrian voluntary teachers.
There are more than 430 TECs in Turkey (as of February 2017) and many Turkish schools are now double shifting to accommodate Syrian students. In Ankara, more than 2,400 Syrian children attend 5 TECs.
Osama, who fled Northern Aleppo in 2013, works as supervisor in a TEC with about 1,000 Syrian students and housed in a Turkish elementary school. His shift is from 1:15 to 5:30 in the afternoon and classrooms with a 25-student capacity must now seat 50. The overcrowding creates tension and makes teaching more difficult. Students find it hard to focus.
“It is very difficult for teachers to control order,” he said. “Part of a teacher’s job is to give attention to students but they are spread too thin. Many students have war-related emotional problems and special needs but everyone is mixed together. There is shoving and punching. I’ve seen stabbing with a pen.” These needs are one reason why the teacher training focuses on psychosocial support in addition to other relevant topics.
The pressure continues at home where refugee families struggle to earn a living. Osama’s school is in one of Ankara’s poorest neighborhoods.  
During his training session, Osama, who taught Arabic in Syria, focused extensively on problem solving and conflict resolution.
 “If we impose solutions on children, they won’t accept them,” he instructed the class. “It’s the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy. One person being disruptive can disrupt everyone. Instead of saying ‘be silent!’ It’s better to say: ‘Please talk with permission.’”
He stressed confidence building. Learning Turkish is a critical asset for Syrian refugees but learning is arduous and access to schools expensive for adults. In the classroom, only 4 out of 30 teachers were proficient in Turkish. Osama used his own experience as a student to empower his students in the teacher training.  As Osama described his own poor language skills, the classroom filled with laughter.
“My (Turkish) teacher gave me confidence so now I go home and study not one but three hours,” he said. “Sometimes with your words, you can empower students so much they feel they can take over the world.”

The teacher training was carried out in two phases, the first phase from August to September 2016 and the second phase from January to February 2017. The trainings were supported by UNICEF through generous funding received from the European Union (EU Trust Fund), Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), and other donor contributions through the Thematic Humanitarian Funding.
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org