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May 27, 2016

Finding the ‘lost’ Syrian generation

SPARK is responding to the dire education crisis in the surrounding countries of Syria (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon & Iraq/KRG) by negotiating with educational institutions and governments to create more scholarships for Syrian refugees. By combining entrepreneurial drive with quality and practical education Syrian refugees have been improving their opportunities in their host countries. For example two Syrian students in Turkey recently opened their own business. This will not only to lessen the refugee burden on the host countries, but also improve Syrian integration. As Shaimaa, a young Syrian in Turkey recently shared with us: ‘Syrian refugees need support to build them on all sides, not just food and shelter. Anyone trying to support the Syrian generation in this is doing a great thing.’

Intervention Challenges

Syrians in the region are finding that access to work is just as important as access to education. Refugees really need higher education opportunities based on labour market demands. Therefore, in cooperation with several universities which are carefully screened on their post-study employment statistics, SPARK is setting up higher & vocational programmes in range of subjects from project management to interior design, law and medicine. In addition to the scholarships, income support for those taking 3 to 4 year studies is being offered in order to limit drop-out rates. There is also a strict gender policy and since its inception, the programme has sought to recruit an equal percentage of male and females onto the scholarship.

However, Syrian students face many challenges such as lack of documentation. ‘The biggest challenge ever for Syrian refugees in the entire region is many of them just do not have their high school certification, they left it at home, they lost it or they did not think that they would continue their education so they thought it was of no value.’ the HES regional manager tells us. Refugees also face problems with a lack of a regional recognition of educational certificates, language barriers and transportation and travel limitations considering the patchwork of legal frameworks refugees have to work around across the region.

Successful persistence

Despite these seemingly major challenges, by working with multiple stakeholders solutions have been found. Their success can be seen in the low numbers of student drop outs. For instance, in Turkey less than 2% of 275 students to date have dropped out. To improve outreach, offline submission centres have also been established which are unique for a scholarships scheme: ‘by focusing on the under-served Syrians who do not have access to the internet to apply we have been working with local partners to be able to receive offline applications’ the team tells us.

Those who don’t have certification are still eligible for the vocational programmes however, without the high school certificate an extra year must be added. SPARK is now considering if it can stretch its budget to support the many refugees who require an extra year due to missing documents.

Once enrolled, SPARK ensures they support the students all the way through their educational journey. Many regional universities teach in English or Turkish so tailor made language catch-up courses have been developed. These intensive 6 week course have been introduced across the region to prepare students for their academic learning.

Where it is sufficient supplementary bus services to the institutes are being provided. Or, as in the case of Lebanon, the education has been bought to the students. The American University of Beirut have agreed to move a course closer to a refugee residency in order to overcome check point and travel problems.

It is not easy for Syrians to adapt to life in the region. Turkey for instance, has almost 3 million refugees. Many are in Gaziantep which is close to the Syrian border so many do not feel safe. SPARK is currently developing an economic empowerment programme to support access to the labour market for Syrians in their new host country.

A month ago, during a meeting with a delegation from the Netherlands at their University, Shaimaa met the Dutch Ambassador in Turkey. ‘I told him, SPARK’s projects are doing more than just providing financial support, for example. I am getting a scholarship which is good but we need support in building the other side of the person. Ok we are alive we are eating and drinking and then what, SPARK is trying to help people with permanent support.’