Educational Opportunities for Displaced Syrians


25 NOVEMBER 2017

The Turkish Heritage Organization and the George Washington University chapter of No Lost Generation co-presented a Nov. 16 program titled “Education for Displaced Syrians: Innovative Solutions to a Complex Challenge,” at G.W.’s Marvin Center. Dr. Jessica Anderson, an affiliate of the Institute for the Study of International Migration and adjunct professor at the Elliott School and Geogetown, moderated the 90-minute discussion.

Syrian activist Remi Hassoun opened the conversation with a poignant retelling of his experience. Upon leaving Syria in 2011, when he was 17, he went to Turkey. Eventually, he said, he obtained a visa to come to the U.S. and began school in a community college while also working. Not having access to his transcript from his Syrian high school made applying to universities or colleges more difficult, Hassoun explained. “It’s much easier now for Syrian students to go to Turkish universities with a scholarship, but here [in the U.S.] it is harder to get a scholarship, and I have to work full-time.”

George Batah is the co-founder of the Syrian Youth Empowerment, an initiative to assist Syrian high school students. The group has secured admissions and full scholarships for Syrian students at Harvard, Stanford, Brown, Columbia, MIT, Duke and Georgetown universities. “Our hope with providing higher education is to be able to build a class of future leaders who will be able to participate in rebuilding Syria,” Batah said. “A four-year college is the best option, but we need to be innovative in confronting a crisis of this size.”

Asked about helping students in the bleakest of circumstances, he responded, “People who are in the hardest situation are more positioned to succeed, and they have much more passion and are harder working. We try to find them because we know that they will succeed because they want it so badly,” he added. “They do not like the reality that they live in.”

Lina Sergie Attar is the co-founder and CEO of the Karam Foundation, a non-profit organization seeking to build a better future for Syria through educational programs, smart aid distribution and sustainable development projects.

“It’s very important for people to understand the importance of supporting Syrian refugees,” Attar stated. “What we have always known is when host communities support them and give them opportunities, then they are able to contribute back to the community tenfold.”

In Turkey, where the Karam Foundation works for Syrian refugee youth, Attar noted, “Syrian refugee students are now entering in the Turkish school system and are no longer in makeshift schools. They are in the system, and thousands and thousands of Syrian refugee youth and high school students have access to Turkish universities. These are the kind of moves that countries need to make across the board.

“Turkey has opened up thousands of fully funded scholarships for Syrian refugee students,” she added, “including a stipend, not just the tuition. The opportunity in Turkey is extraordinary.”

Some students cannot go to school because they work to support their families,  Attar explained. In these cases, the Karam Foundation provides them with micro-scholarships to help enable the children to attend school.

Because “Syrian refugee teens are the most vulnerable set of people in the refugee community,” the foundation built the Karam House in Reyhanli, Turkey. “The reason why it really works now is because the Syrian kids are entering into the Turkish system,” Attar said, “so they are going to schools and they are on the track of getting a formal education. The Syrians are so grateful to Turkey for taking in 3.5 million Syrian refugees and opening up their country to them,” she added.

At the Karam House, children are also learning Turkish and English, in addition to coding, entrepreneurship skills and university preparation.

Katherine T. Miller is the Global Education in Emergencies specialist for the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) PEER (Platform for Education in Emergencies Response) program.

“Around 2014,” she recalled, “we saw there was a great need for education, without which there was the risk of having a lost generation. When this came to the fore, IIE acted and started the Syrian Consortium for Higher Education and then PEER, in a larger effort to think globally about how we improve access for displaced Syrian students to higher education.”

PEER has two goals, Miller said. The first is an online clearinghouse of some 700 opportunities for displaced students to find scholarships and language learning  and, secondly, “to provide a survey of the landscape as to who is doing what.”

“When students have a pathway to higher education they are more apt to stay in primary and secondary school,” Miller explained, “because they see an avenue toward a larger goal.” She pointed out that when students don’t have access to higher education, but desire it, the boys are more apt to fall toward extremism and the girls toward early marriage. “I would love to see education cease to be a development concern,” she concluded, “and finally considered a humanitarian concern.”

The panelists all agreed that the number one action needed to help Syrians and Syrian refugees is to end the war and the daily bombings.