ISME Facebook
ISME Twitter
ISME Instagram
ISME YouTube
Home / News / Understanding education/art under the influence of global currents, and education within the framework of the problems of refugee children (Iraqi/Syrian) in Turkey.
Understanding education/art under the influence of global currents, and education within the framework of the problems of refugee children (Iraqi/Syrian) in Turkey.
30 Dec 2017
Ugur Alpagut

Countries are expected to have certain sensibilities related to their typical strategies that arise through changes in living conditions, impositions, and facts peculiar to the present day. Therefore, the development of many approaches to the concept "public" is a natural occurrence. 


“People living in the same country, those descended from the same ancestral traditions, those descended from different ancestors but living in the same country, an entire group of people living in a certain region or environment, citizens living in a country as a whole as defined by its leaders, and the community except for intellectuals are particularly included in the definition of public.” (TDK 1988: 601) (1). We should also emphasise that new ideas can be developed apart from these identifications. It is thought that more accurate definitions within which today's living conditions in cultural, socio-economic, and political aspects are also considered, inclusive of everyone who shares historical/actual, abstract/concrete, material/moral aspects, can be provided within the concept of public, along with approaches that can be developed with approaches suggested by different disciplines.

Multi-dimensional evaluations of the concept of public can only proceed through multifaceted and in-depth analyses. All manner of developments that have drawn their cultural boundaries by interacting directly or indirectly with Turkish culture have affected the cultural scope of the Turkish public. Therefore, new evaluations and definitions related to the scope of the Turkish public are required when the cultural dimensions affected by cultural currents are considered, in addition to the effect of migrations, the considerable increase in communication capacity, the changes in territorial structures and geographies, and how these factors are to be evaluated today (2).

Verbal and written cultures and the transitions between them constitute the major source of wealth in a vital society; they also generate major problems.

As discussed in theories about the birth of music, although the level of personal achievements is high, the occurrence of these achievements has social reasons because the evolution of music cannot be isolated from the evolution of society. Even though we agree that musical sense, the skill that develops to a high level only through experience and practice, is endowed to human beings by god or nature, music has evolved into a practice on its own along with the social development of human beings. Today, there are many reasons for the extent of society not to be based only on the "West" in cultural terms. The point to which the approach of modernism has carried human beings seems to have already overstepped the line where human race that has reached inevitably richness which cannot be restricted to the "West" —as in contrast to the shrinking world— should question and seek new orientations. It is understood that regardless of their names, the forms of artistic and educational approaches that are displayed as if they are against modernism are associated with the past, present, and future of society, and society will improve in an unprecedented pace as long as well-planned designs are created that embrace the age holistically (3).

The way to eliminate intercultural xenophobia under today's conditions is related to the way that countries both protect their own culture and also present them to the interest of other cultures with effective methods.

Predictions made about these findings through exploring them help us sense that it is necessary to understand and to analyse present educational, artistic, and political strategies, for the benefit of the country and for humanity. This approach should gain more importance as the democratic initiatives that are humane and show respect to others are inclusive and by developing with the intertwining of east and west, sound and positive reactions should be included in the cultural dimensions of the civilisation by measures that have begun to be evaluated and appreciated today(4).


The social fabric, which has changed rapidly with the post-colonial period migrations in Europe after the 1960s, has brought about unpredictable developments that improved with different cultures. This new fabric contains an extensive range that can open up from the rhythmic differences and the richness of other cultures through popular music genres. Within the last 30 to 40 years, new musical elements have inevitably entered into European musical education practices through the impetus of social developments. Therefore, “foreign” music items have been increasingly blended with different methods within the musical education in Europe; this has become an ordinary situation. These developments require different cultures to be shared and assessed within the common educational ground to an extent that is increasing daily.

Because of the reasons arising from the differences in population structure and living conditions in Turkey, despite all the developments in the communication world, our own cultural features compared to those of other cultures have become more prominent. This results from our striking characteristic traits bearing the civilisation layers peculiar to Anatolia that differ from those of European culture, and through sociological relations based on our history with neighboring countries. Anatolia has a peculiar and deep-rooted musical culture that is now under the influence of cultural winds blowing between east and west. It is impossible for the effects of foreign items on our music culture to be ignored under today's irrepressible conditions.

Because our social and cultural structure has very different characteristics from Europe, it is inevitable that our musical education produces its own goals and orientations that range from authentic to classical, modern and popular.

Personal success in musical education is obviously achieved through the integration of cognitive and emotional aspects in their unique, person-specific way. On one hand, students know themselves; on the other hand, they can achieve success by gradually crystallising this complex structure that they will internalise in the future. Therefore, the education for students is expected to have a scope that includes versatile, informing, evocative, reinforcing, and feedback features in every aspect.

In art education, looking at personal talents is something different. Stabilising and restricting the personal talents with the methods used in a way to stop development and prevent students being nourished and interrupting the multifaceted development processes of students in education are separate processes. As the name implies, "talents” are the elements that support the results that the personal development obtains and enable the individual artistic identity to be formed to acquire richness and broadness. However, perceiving the personal talents as the elements that guide on their own and cause results to be achieved serves only a shallow understanding.

These diversionary tactics predict a personal development that is not in accord with the principles of "National Education" that Turkey has always had. They may do irreversible damage on our children and young people. Any educational approaches that are not unique to Turkey and are transferred from a foreign source as they are without paying regard to our personal development in accordance with educational principles should also be carefully assessed. Unfortunately, the introduction of simple orientations that are intended to be placed with certain reasons such as trends and imitation into our schools by eye-catching presentations without any measures is following a gradually increasing acceleration.

Cultural-sharing processes and individuals' ability to enter into the depths of their own culture are undoubtedly be achieved through a holistic educational approach based on the school life of students. In this respect, fragmented education models that are now attempted to be imposed should be questioned (5).


In 1992, the 20th World Conference of the International Society for Music Education was held in Seoul with topic of "Sharing Musics of the World". In the related conference held by the International Society for Music Education, many music educators and researchers presented findings about intercultural music relations and cultural diversity, as well as papers analysing the solutions to problems in this issue (ISME, 1992) (6).

Recent developments based on the "multicultural" education model that has a Western-based, "global" navigational feature and is tightly linked to postmodern structuring content can be likened to a one-way traffic pattern that goes from the west to the east on a major highway in an unprecedented manner.

What kinds of relationships are there when it comes down to the depth of this strategy and effort? What are the positive and negative aspects of these studies? Such questions to be emphasised include sensibilities that make the assessment and continuous review of the relevant global developments important.

Today's conditions should not restrain music educators as a passive audience in the face of ethnic, technological, financial, media and ideological flows/waves of global culture (7).

The main elements underlying the issues include the problems caused by migrants and the atmosphere created by the migrants escaping the Westerns countries without permission; the settlement of foreign workers in Western countries due to the need of labor force in these countries that have gradually lost their young population, and the sociological changes in population structure resulting from the changes experienced by the colonial period in the mid-twentieth century.

It can be stated that this method used to comply with multicultural music education environment will gradually form a basis only for superficial education content. The obligation of students to look at cultures from outside is inevitable, and it results from a long and challenging process that is required for students to get used to the educational materials because these materials consist of items foreign to their understanding.

Music addressed within a culture's own context has its own musical items and dynamics; it presents a distant case to students in cultural terms. For students, internalising a unique music and culture requires multifaceted methods and an educational process that needs to be addressed with patience.

The topic about the absence of notation, which should be considered in oral culture studies, is a very useful and necessary method for developing the creativity, perception, and individual convenience of students. In this respect, students can further reach into the culture they enter into by means of studies. For example, if the topic being studied is "Turkish folk songs", an instrument like "bağlama”, which is taken as a center and upon which abstractions should be built, and the musical items of Turkish folk songs, have great importance. Undoubtedly, the absence of fundamental features that students coming from foreign cultures should have such as "knowledge of the language that sounds unfamiliar", "self" and "memory" present a barrier in themselves.

To what extent can music education based on studies of pop music, which can be regarded as the most important representative and symbol of consumptive culture in the music field, be permanent and leave an impression? How can the musical accumulation evolving with authentic and classical orientations through interaction of east and west for thousands of years be perceived within the structured pop culture that constitutes a new educational environment? How can the cultural movements molded within the conflicts, reconciliation, or interchanges in social, political, economic, and historical realities be melded in a pot in a popular culture shaped by postmodern orientation? Do our children and young people have to carry out the energy they should consume through music only as a part of consumption culture and superficiality? What can be the other elements that affect this development?

These questions show that we are now involved a very important process that likely includes the 21st century in terms of music education and music culture, and emphasise that comprehensive research and strategies should be developed to answer these questions (8).

Educational Problems of Refugee Children Living in Turkey under the Unavoidable War Conditions of Today (A Case Study in Bolu)

In Turkey, where the number of Syrian refugees has reached 3.5 million, one of the most important requirements that should be dealt with in a country where the refugee children have come or are born into is 'Formal Education" practices that are provided to these children and problems with it.

It is estimated that 300,000 children have been born to refugees in Turkey. Considering that 130,000 new babies on average are added to that number each year, the importance of the topic emerges on its own.

Bolu is a city located between Ankara and İstanbul that is famous for its natural beauty. In Bolu, where refugees are allowed to settle at prescribed rates, an increasing number of refugees has been witnessed in the last three years, as in the other cities of Turkey.

Apart from the social responsibility project [Art Workshops for Children within the scope of Okullar Hayat Olsun (Let Schools Give Life)] that is conducted with “Association of Music Educators” (MUSED), “Bolu Provincial National Education Directorate”, “Abant İsset Baysal University” and “Bolu Community Foundation” for children who need support, I need to look at a number of variables, including general education of refugee children.

Most of the refugee children in Bolu are Iraqi. The others are refugee children from various countries, especially from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran.
The variables intended to be examined in the study; the relevant institutions and the examined topics/questions are as follows:

  1. The quantitative status of refugee students in Bolu 
    Based on the data obtained from the Provincial National Education Directorate, 1146 of 47,000 students receiving education in Primary, Secondary, and High Schools in Bolu are foreign students. The same procedure used for Turkish children is valid for the enrollment of these foreign children in schools. The addresses of all children are recorded in the e-school system. No matter in which month they arrive, all these children are enrolled in a school.

    This table shows the number of refugee students enrolled according to their classes in Bolu province.



    1st Class


    2nd Class


    3rd  Class


    4th Class


    5th Class


    6th Class


    7th Class


    8th Class


    9th Class


    10th Class


    11th Class


    12th Class


    As of November 2017, a total of 1146 refugee students.

  2. Educational topics and challenges that the Bolu Provincial National Education Directorate has to deal with.
    Refugee children have school attendance problems. Moreover, there is a constant variability observed in the school enrollment in terms of incoming and outgoing students. School administrations and Bolu Provincial National Education Directorate constantly check the school attendance of children. Warning letters are sent to the families of children on 7th, 12th, 17th, and 20th day of absence. Home visits are conducted on 20th day in an attempt to reach an understanding why these children do not attend school regularly. The Bolu Provincial National Education Directorate has teachers and officials who know Arabic to provide schools with counseling service within the scope of Counseling and Research to find solutions for communication problems. Refugee children are allowed to wear regular clothes to school. Schools’ Parent Associations solve children's problems about clothes by receiving support when needed. Behavior differences or cultural differences such as non-compliance with classroom and school rules, indifferent behaviors, and hyperactivity are generally observed among the children. Their self-confidence levels are high, but sometimes an uncontrolled manner is observed in their behavior in the educational environment. Therefore, enabling children to distinguish between complying with rules while showing their behavior and behaving indifferently by means of education gains importance. In addition, communication problems with parents draw attention. The rate of school enrollment among these children is very high because they should receive their student certificates to get financial support provided per student.
  3. Providing refugee students with Turkish education in schools and public education centres within the framework of cultural and functional harmony of their families and the introduction of possible contributions of music education to this education.
    The most important problem for refugees results from their inability to speak and understand the Turkish language. Since the foreign language (Turkish) is accepted unconditionally, including an intermediate class, the problem of adaptation to the lessons and Turkish friends begins. It is known that the first class and relatively few refugee students are more successful in language learning: if the refugee children can form a group in a classroom, they constantly speak Arabic among themselves, their learning Turkish is delayed. To counteract this, courses are held for the parents of refugee children at the Public Education Center, and in particular, studies on Turkish language. The contributions to learning other musical activities such as song teaching and choir, which require skills and language use such as in music education in the Turkish language, is well known. However, children's distractibility, adjustment problems, their confusion about the language, cultural and social level differences with their teachers make it difficult to enable these children to acquire the behavior at the level desired and to integrate themselves into the class. It is difficult to conduct musical activities for language teaching in a general classroom environment, and it is understood that the reason for educating refugee children in separate classes is to avoid the tendency toward dangerous approaches, such as alienating them and discriminating against them. Therefore, it can be considered that by revising the relevant legislation and providing individuals and groups with special study hours, it might be possible to prevent such dangers and increase the quality of education in general.
  4. The role of music education in coping with the children’s problem of adaptation to Turkish students.
    Music teachers have stated that the children are trying to comply with their friends more particularly in practical lessons such as rhythm exercises, singing songs together, and activities with “Orff” instruments in music education lessons. However, these children cannot show the same level of interest in theoretical topics, such as teaching musical notation and learning the rules related to music teaching. A problematic picture, including reactions such as getting bored quickly and isolating themselves, emerges. Because of the problems in general communication and individual differences, refugee children are sitting in classrooms like guests, not like students. They lose interest in the relevant subjects. It was observed that 2 out of 10 children have had the knowledge of musical notation when they enrolled in the school. 50.Yıl İsset Baysal Primary School was assigned to prepare for the celebration of April 23 National Sovereignty and Children's Day. The plan was that 15 or 20 refugee children would participate in the 100-person choir. Now, the teachers are carrying on their meticulous works regarding the contents of the concert.
  5. Determining the common songs and education materials in intercultural terms
    It is understood that the teachers gave answers about popular songs when the relevant questions were asked of them. However, there are songs that appeal to the common interests of different cultures. For example, I remember clearly that we sang some commonly known songs such as "Ada Sahillerinde" (On the Island shores), Erkin Koray “Şaşkın” (Confused) with our music group, Anadolu Güneşi (Anatolian Sun) in Jordan and Syria about ten years ago. It is beneficial to conduct a more thorough study about this topic and to provide teachers with feedback. 
    By providing support such as teachers, instruments, tools, equipment and materials, educational environments where the importance of the relevant topic is comprehended and properly analysed should be created. The topics mentioned should be addressed to enable refugee children to comply with the environment they live in more fully by means of their musical education lessons. Further detailed studies should be conducted for the solution of the problems that currently have arisen through the influx of large numbers of refugee children.

* I would like to thank Bolu Provincial National Education Directorate for supporting me in reaching the numerical data and schools about this topic by contributing with the permission and enabling me to present this topic to the interest of International Society for Music Education (ISME).


  1. (TDK 1988: 601). Atatürk Higher Institution of Culture, Language and History, Turkish Language Institution, Turkish Dictionary. Ankara: Turkish Historical Society Printing House, 1988.”
  2. Alpagut U. “Extending The Music Education During The First Years Of The Republic”, Milli Folklor, 2013, Year 25, Number 97. 
  3. Alpagut U. Journal of Science and Utopia (Bilim ve Ütopya Dergisi) October 2005, (Issue: 136, Page: 51-55) 
  4. Alpagut U, Journal of Science and Utopia (Bilim ve Ütopya Dergisi) September 2006, (Issue: 147, Page: 62-66) 
  5. Alpagut U. Atatürk's Traces in View of Music Problems. First Edition. Istanbul: Science and Utopia Library, 2010
  6. Isme. (1992). Isme Proceedings of the 20th World Conference of the International Society for Music Education. Seoul, Korea.
  7. Aslanoglu, R. (1998). Globalisation as a Cultural Mixture, A. Yaşar Sarıbay, E. Fuat Keyman, (Compile), Globalisation, Civil Society and Islam, Vadi Publications, Ankara.
  8. Alpagut U. "World Music", The Last Twenty Year Review: Dutch Example ", Folklore / Literature volume: 16, number 62, 2010/2