Educating Syria’s future ‘rulers’

School in Turkey funded by charities faces challenges to foster “upcoming generations who will rule over Syria”.

For Syrian children fleeing to Turkey with their families, getting an education is a challenge if they are not living in one of the refugee camps where schools have been set up.

They cannot enrol in Turkish schools because they do not speak the local language.

But a large Syrian community living in Antakya with thousands of children sitting at home has pushed many of those concerned about the future of Syria’s next generation to do something.

In August 2011, a small group of Syrians in Antakya set up the Al Basha’er School to teach their children while in exile. The effort initially started with 16 students and six teachers.

It later significantly expanded when more parents wanted their children to join with no end in sight to the war in Syria.

The school is now renting two small buildings in different parts of Antakya and is teaching 1,200 students.

It has hired enough Syrian teachers to staff the school for twelve hours a day on early and late shifts. But the problem is around 1,000 other students are on a waiting list for a desperate opportunity to enroll.

Mustafa Shaker, the school’s headmaster, says the only funding the school receives is from the Damascus Suburbs Relief charity organisation set up by private Syrian individuals living in Riyadh.

He says he has appealed to the Syrian Opposition National Coalition to use its contacts to get additional funding for the school, but described the coalition’s response as thus far “cold”.

Savings exhausted

Since the school is a charity project, the students pay nothing but a transportation fee.

Most Syrians living outside the camps in Turkey have already exhausted their savings because they get little or no help from charity organisations. And if the school is to expand its needs to hire more teachers and rent more buildings.

The mere existence of the school has also been challenged.

The Turkish authorities have already shut down the school three times.

Shaker says the Syrian government has sent its agents everywhere, including Antakya, to disrupt successful pro-revolution projects.

Though apologetic, the Turkish police said it fears for the safety of the students and teachers and was therefore forced to close down the school.

The province of Hatay is also home to a large Turkish Alawite community that is largely loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Al Basha’er School is seen as a product of the revolution and for this reason makes many Alawites in Hatay uncomfortable.

The Turkish government clearly does not want the Syrian conflict to be fought on its own territory.

But a few months ago, the school administration got the approval from the Turkish authorities to keep the institution running.

Shaker says he told the police he believed the project that has to succeed because every child has the right to education.

‘Upcoming generation’

Though the school’s main aim is to make the time Syrian children spend in Turkey productive until they return to Syria, it also works to build what Shaker describes as the “upcoming generation of Syrians who will rule the country” after Assad’s departure.

It is for this reason that the Syrian curriculum which is being taught has been amended.

Shayma al-Khattab, a ninth grade student from Hama, says the Nationalist Education subject has been scrapped because it is all about the Assad family and the Baath Party.

Shayma says neither the school administration nor the students recognise the Assad dynasty any more.

Teenage girls spend their time during the two breaks they get each day on the school rooftop chatting and happily singing pro-revolution songs.

Among them are those who’ve lost brothers, fathers and cousins in the revolution.

For them, the Assad regime’s fall is inevitable.