Turkish Parents Perception On Cultural Challenges Education Essay


Although the ever increasing diverse immigrant students enrich and bring diversity to country of migration, they seem to encounter numerous challenges as they acculturate and integrate into their new culture and environment.The purpose of this study was to find out Turkish parents' perception on cultural challenges and learning experiences facing their children studying in English schools. A case of Turkish immigrant families residing in Bristol was conducted. Qualitative data was collected using semi-structured interviews. The data were analyzed by thematic content analysis under the emerging themes. The study identified four major challenges that Turkish children face while studying in English schools: language, integration into community, school discipline and schooling system. The recommendations were to train teachers to recognize and address ethnic and religious differences, removing barriers for teachers with overseas qualifications and teaching assistants from Turkish communities through the provision of retraining opportunities, and encouraging teaching as a profession within the community.


1.1 Background and Context

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A recent national census carried out in 2011 regarding the number of people living in the United Kingdom (UK) indicated that immigration numbers are rising, with an estimated 7.5 million people now residing in England and Wales who were born outside of the UK. Since the central motivation for migration is to improve the life of the family (which was judged not to be possible at home) the parents are in principle highly interested in educational and social mobility of their children. The rapid increase in Turkish migration to England since 2004 - and with it many children enrolling in English schools - has thus brought new challenges as well as opportunities. The diversity of immigrant's profiles exhibit differences in cultural and historical backgrounds, each with distinct culture and social norms that interacts and influence perception of studying in English schools. When families migrate, the new culture and culture of origin may conflict. This in turn influences how they interact and cope with each other.

According to a report issued by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the children of immigrant families in England are facing significant challenges in their academic lives. The report further showed that the immigrant families in preferred to send their children to schools which contained large numbers of students belonging to immigrant families. One of the reasons for this is because children from immigrant families tend to experience a 'culture shock' and one way to assimilate them gradually is by enrolling them in schools with large number of pupils belonging to the immigrant group. Getting such schools is however a big challenge, considering that most schools in England harbor children from different cultural backgrounds. As a result, the parents have no option but to take their children to these schools. Studying in a new cultural environment brings with it several challenges. The purpose of this study is therefore to explore Turkish parents' perception on cultural challenges facing their children studying in English schools.

To disseminate our findings, this research report is divided into three sections. The first section will focus on literature review on the immigrant children studying on English schools and the challenges they encounter while assimilating to the new cultural environment. The second section will describe the research design and the methodology used to carry out the research. It will provide information on the research approach used, participants, data collection and analysis, and ethical issues. The third and final section will present findings and discussions from the research. A conclusion based on the findings will then be drawn which will highlight recommendations for policy and practice.

1.2 Rationale for the current study

Apart from the growing number of Turkish immigrants studying in English schools, the rationale for carrying out this study is hinged on the trends on research being carried out on Turkish immigrant children studying in English schools. First, most research has being done on Turkish immigrants and their children in England but almost from a national perspective. The current research was conducted at local level, with an aim of gathering 'local voices' from the participants' experiences. Secondly, most of the research has focused on general socio-economic challenges and there has been comparatively little research that specifically focuses on cultural issues. In addition, most of the already conducted research has been quantitative in nature. This research will be qualitative and this will be hopefully important in finding out how the findings differ with the existing ones, with an aim of contributing to the existing literature. A good understanding of the challenges and experiences of immigrant children in English schools is critical because there are large numbers of them schools have an important role in forming community cohesion. Against this background, the purpose of this study is to explore Turkish parents' perception on cultural challenges facing their children studying in English schools.

1.3 Aim and research questions

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The aim of the current study was to investigate the Turkish parents' perception on cultural challenges facing their children studying in English schools. The research questions that guided this inquiry were:

What are the cultural challenges experienced by Turkish children studying in English schools?

How does culture affects children's learning?

What are the possible solutions to these challenges?

2.0 Literature Review

The state of immigrants studying in English schools has been one of the major debates especially in the field of inclusive education. Success in education is one of the main goals that many immigrant students pursue, but the outcome of this goal largely depends on how well they integrate with the culture of the immigration country. The integration process of migrants generally lasts for generations. During this process, cultural differences between migrants and natives usually decrease (NESSE, 2008). With some immigrant groups, however, cultural differences remain strong and these migrants change into ethnic minorities within the nation state. Farley (2005: 368) makes cultural difference and cultural dominance the starting point of an argument for explaining the problems of migrant children in the English educational system. As he says, "a big piece of the problem is related to the fact that those who control our educational institutions and a great many minority students are, quite simply, culturally different from one another". On a similar note, schools are viewed as part of the learning environment where intergration of children from different backgrounds occurs. According to a recent report on strategies for integrating migrant children in European schools and societies, it was noted that:

Integration into the culture of the immigration country is a major function of schools in immigration countries. Therefore, the relative absence or distorted presentation of migrants in the school curriculum, in textbooks and in other materials and in school life, harms the self-image and self-esteem of minority group children … and negatively affects their chances of school success (NESSE, 2008:7).

This means that schools have an important role in forming community cohesion considering that children come from diverse cultural background, but there are always cultural challenges that arise and this subsequently affect achievement levels of immigrant children.

Studies have shown that there is a high level of educational under-achievement among Turkish immigrant children studying in English schools and one of the factors that contribute to this is cultural conflict between the immigrant children's culture and the English culture at school. For instance in 2004, The London Challenge Turkish Forum carried out research exploring the educational attainment of young people aged 11-19 years in five key London Boroughs (Haringey, Hackney. Islington, Lambeth and Southwark) from London's Turkish, Turkish Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot communities. In a report released in 2004, the Forum presented a number of factors that they considered contributed to the levels of educational under-achievement among children from Turkish, Turkish Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot communities. These included:

Family structure and culture, especially inter-generational conflict.

A lack of parental knowledge about the British education system.

Language difficulties inhibiting both levels of parental involvement and children's educational participation.

A lack of support for parents and children from schools, including low provision for bilingual education; low expectations of Turkish, Turkish Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot children among teachers; limited access to information on the school in Turkish.

Pressures caused by parents' employment and immigration status.

A lack of positive role models.

(The London Challenge Turkish Forum, 2004)

In line with the Turkish Forum's recommendations, there is a different focus within the current research. Rather than attend solely to the experiences and perceptions of Turkish pupils themselves, this report examines the perception from the Turkish parents. This report therefore focuses on the experiences and perceptions of parents that we believe form part of voices that inform the educational experiences of children from Turkish immigrant communities. At no point in this research did we interview the children or teachers, however we believe this is an area deserving further research.

Conceptual framework

Miles and Huberman (1994:18) state that a conceptual framework 'explains, either graphically or in narrative form, the main things to be studied-the key factors, concepts, or variables-and the presumed relationships among them'. In this study, we conceptualize the school as an organization with different roles and relations with its social environment, including the parents, teachers and other pupils (peer). When families migrate to a new environment, the new culture and culture of origin may conflict. The environments may exhibits some similarities and/or differences in cultural and historical backgrounds, each with distinct culture and social norms. We were interested in the social and situative perspectives in education because we believe that institutional and social contexts play an important part in children's learning and making meaning of their world. The conceptual framework in figure 1 describes the relationship between culture and three of the variables that make up a learning environment i.e school, peers and parents.

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Fig 1: Relationship between culture and social environment

Source: Author's view

Children from immigrant families come with different cultural norms that interact and influence perception of studying in English schools. This in turn influences how they (immigrant children) negotiate their cultural identity when they interact with the new learning environment. The cultural interaction brings with it challenges and experiences, which is the main focus of this study. There are definitions of the term "culture", but in this study, culture will be defined as 'the values held by members of a given group that distinguish it from other groups' (Dimmock & Walker, 2005:7). These values include behaviour, lifestyle, religious ceremonies and language.

3. Research Design and Methodology

In this section, I will explain the research perspective for our study, research design, data analysis procedure and ethical issues.

Research approach

Banks (2006:781) states that 'research reflects the political and social context as well as the epistemological journeys of researchers and scholars'. As beginning researchers, it is important for us to define our paradigmatic and epistemological stance.

According to Gephart (1999), research paradigms can be classified into three different categories: positivism, interpretivism and critical theory. Our philosophical perspective of this research is interpretivism. We believe that the perspectives on events and actions held by the people involved in them are not simply their accounts of these events and actions, to be assessed in terms of truth or falsity; they are part of the reality that you are trying to understand, and a major influence on their behavior (Maxwell, 1992, 2004a). The researchers were interested in exploring the perception that Turkish parents have on the challenges their children encounter while studying in English schools. The explorations in search of answers to the research questions were thus interpretive. The choice of the interpretive paradigm was with the premise that 'people interpret events, contexts and situations, and act on this basis of those events, thus making it necessary to examine situations, through the eyes of the participants rather than the researcher' (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2000:22).

Research methodology

Myers (2009) points out that the research methodology is usually a strategy of enquiry which moves from the underlying assumptions to research design and data collection. Research methods are mainly classified into two: qualitative and quantitative. This research used a qualitative approach to determine Turkish parents' perception on cultural challenges and learning experiences facing their children studying in English schools. One of the purposes of qualitative research is to uncover meanings individuals have constructed of their experiences. A qualitative approach was preferred because qualitative studies 'seek to discover and understand a phenomenon, a process, or the perspectives and world views of the people involved' (Merrian 1998:11). This approach provided an opportunity to describe, interpret, understand, identify and report recurrent patterns in the form of categories.


The research was conducted in Bristol. Three respondents were selected based on 'their characteristics and availability' (Wiiersman & Jurs 2009:119). The respondents were immigrants who hailed from Turkish community with their children studying in English schools.

Data collection

In qualitative research, qualitative data sources are used which include interviews and questionnaires, observation and participant observation (fieldwork), texts and documents and the researcher's impressions and reactions (Myers, 2009). In this study, semi-structured face to face interviews were used. Each interview lasted about 45 minutes. Use of semi‐structured interviews ensured that there was flexibility 'to let the participant develop ideas and speak more widely on the issues raised by the researcher' (Denscombe 2007: 176). Interview method of data collection has the advantages (Genise, 2002; Shneiderman and Plaisant, 2005) that:

the direct contact with the users often leads to specific, constructive suggestions

is good at obtaining detailed information.

few participants are needed to gather rich and detailed data.

These advantages were particularly useful in choosing our data collection method because:

we were aware of not being able to access many Turkish immigrant families within the limited time, and the use of interviews allowed us to access few participants that were available.

Our research involved issues to do with culture which is usually a complex phenomenon to understand, and the use of interviews provided an opportunity for further probing and clarifications in order to obtain detailed information.

Data analysis procedure

We audiotaped all interviews and transcribed them for analysis. The transcribed data were read several times for familiarisation. The analysis of the data followed a thematic analysis approach. Thematic analysis is a qualitative analytic method for 'identifying, analysing and reporting patterns (themes) within data. It minimally organises and describes your data set in (rich) detail' (Braun and Clarke, 2006:79). It is used to analyse classifications and present themes (patterns) that relate to the data. Thematic analysis, following the approach outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006) was applied to the data. The initial stage involved the reading and re-reading of transcripts to become 'thoroughly familiar with the data' (Denscombe 2007: 290). The second stage involved devising and assigning coding categories: words and phrases, which represented topics and themes in the data (Began & Bilker 2003: 161). Initial coding, based on one transcript, was used to develop preliminary codes, these being modified or replaced as subsequent transcripts were analysed. Finally coded data, taken across all transcripts, was drawn together under higher level themes, combining a number of narrower sub-themes.

This analysis aimed at identifying central themes in the data by searching for recurrent experiences, feelings and attitudes, so as to codify, reduce and connect different categories into central themes. The codings were derived from the participants' responses, (e.g. statements). Coding allowed us to review the whole of the data by identifying its most significant meaning i.e. what is the data trying to say or tell us (Miles and Huberman 1994; Halldorson 2009; Coffey and Atkinson 1996). Emerging categories (themes) were used as "bins" for sorting the data for further analysis and were useful as section headings in presenting our findings. The rationale behind choosing thematic analysis was grounded in the interpretive nature of the study. According to Ibrahim (2012), 'thematic analysis is considered the most appropriate for any study that seeks to discover using interpretations'. It gives an opportunity to understand the potential of any issue more widely (Marks and Yardley 2004).

Ethical considerations

Silverman (2000:201) reminds us that 'while researchers are carrying out their research, they should always remember that they are actually entering private spaces of their participants'. This raises ethical issues that need to be addressed before the actual research is carried out. Creswell (2003) reinforces this by adding that it is the researcher's obligation to respect the needs, rights, values and desires of the participants.

The researchers referred to the GSoE ethics procedures to guide the ethical considerations of this study. Prior to the commencement of field work, an ethical research proposal (appendix A) was submitted to, and approved by, our course tutor. The explorations in this study addressed the following ethical issues. First, the participants were assured of confidentiality through the use of pseudonyms in the report. Anonymity was applied to the respondents and their children at the time of transcription, such that individuals could not be specifically identified. Secondly, the participants were informed of their rights to participate, or not, in the study. They were also made aware that they stood to benefit from the study in that our questions to them would encourage them to reflect on their practices as parents, and they would be provided with a copy of the report. Thirdly, transcribed interviews were stored in password protected folders in Graduate School of Education with restricted access and stored on a hard drive which only the researchers will have access to. Fourth, participants were informed on the purpose of our research, and that the research is to be assessed by the University of Bristol, Graduate school of Education for continuous coursework assessment purpose in our Masters program to help us gain skills in doing research. The research is not to be used for any other purpose other than this. Finally, permission from all participants and our course tutor to conduct the study was obtained.


Four key themes were identified through thematic analysis of the data: language, integration into the school community, discipline and education system. Our findings came from these themes that emerged from our research.


All our participants referenced language as a facet of their or their peers' lived experiences that mediated connections to their home countries as well as to their cultural identities.

A lack of proficiency in English language skills was identified as significantly inhibiting children's ability to communicate with pupils and staff, to understand tasks and instructions, and to complete work. A particular problem was the use of elaborated English by teachers and within learning materials, as well as taken-for-granted assumptions about pupil's prior knowledge of English language and culture:

"When my children started school, especially my daughter cried a lot first days…she came home and keep saying she didn't understand anything [because of the language used at school]" (Parent 1).

b) Integration into school community

Language barriers are a fundamental hurdle for immigrants in this study and appear to stop them from making vital connections in their communities. Parents were looking for a school community with majority of Turkish children because they felt their children will be easily integrated. But schools with majority of Turkish children are limited.

"At least they [our children] will be around people who were raised with our culture and it will be give me trust, reliance. At least I would be able to say our friends or someone is taking care of our children, teach them our culture and English culture as well." (Parent 2)

In addition, the parents emphasized on the importance of having language skills for integration because language played an important role in integrating their children at school and out-of-school communities.


Discipline, in particular, is a big issue for Turkish parents in regard to schools. One parent in this study said she has no problem with the level of discipline and school policies.

"I think Head Teacher is much disciplined person. Because he controls every other child, he knows who is in the school and who is not. They are very strict and pay a lot of attention to the school attendance. If your child is not at school, right after 9am they call you from school." (Parent 2)

However, one parent expressed concern that some school are not disciplined in school attire:

"There is not much discipline here in England. For example, some schools permit pupils to wear what they want…discipline [on what a pupil should wear] is not completely present…" (Parent 1)

Notably, the difference in perception about simply depend on the type of school the child went to.

(d) Education system

Lack of understanding of the English education system was another challenge identified. This in part often related to parents not realising that they were empowered to approach schools with issues relating to the education of their children. This lack of confidence meant parents did not feel able to ask for clarification of issues as and when they arose. Turkish Parents do not understand English schooling systems.

"…I am not able to compare [Turkish and English] schooling system because I do not know the English schooling system" (Parent 2)

Parents expressed a desire to become more involved in their children's education but a lack of understanding of the English education system was a barrier. This in part often related to parents not realising that they were empowered to approach schools with issues relating to the education of their children. This lack of confidence meant parents did not feel able to ask for clarification of issues as and when they arose. There was need for increasing parental involvement in school and their children's learning, including raising awareness of the British educational system and the importance of education.


The current study aimed at unearthing Turkish Parent's perception on the challenges and experiences their children they encounter while studying in English schools. Generally, though the research identified common challenges and experiences, their magnitude differed from one parent to another depending on the length the parents have stayed in England with their children. When reviewing previous research on the topic (Skutnabb-Kangas & Toukomaa, 1976; Cummins, 1981b; Collier, 1987; Ramírez, 1992; Klesmer, 1994; Thomas & Collier, 1997; Gándara, 1999; Hakuta, Butler & Witt, 2000) we found out that our speculations were consistent with those on the literature to the general agreement as to the importance of length of stay in the host country. Research has established as well that integration is a function of length of stay (Rumbaut 2004). A relatively long period of time is necessary for immigrant children to be able to use the language of the school in teaching and learning activities.

The issue of language touched many of the other challenges identified. The research also found out that gaining an ability to use English is fundamental in enabling migrant children to begin to integrate into learning environment and generally, the UK society. This findings are in consistent with the findings from NESSE 2008 which found that '…language issues are a core part of educational policies and integration processes in immigration societies…immigrants, particularly their children, need a full command of the lingua franca of the immigration country for full integration' (pp. 8).

Though some literature indicates that discrimination is often a major factor affecting the achievement of migrant students (NESSE, 2008; EUMC, 2004) our research indicated that the immigrant children in English schools are given support by their teachers in their schools and the issue of discrimination did not arise. The parents added that English schools were concerned about diversity in culture of immigrant children and their status, and thus helped them to cope with the school life.

The teacher-student relationship is also influenced by the ethnicity of teachers and students. one the parents interviewed recommended that schools should include teaching staff from immigrant communities.Removing barriers for teachers with overseas qualifications and teaching assistants from Turkish, Turkish Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot communities through the provision of retraining opportunities and encouraging teaching as a profession within the community can be seen as a way of enhancing relationship between teachers and immigrant children. The same thought was held by Schofield (2006) who argued that that the presence of teachers of the same ethnicity and / or migration status as the students has a positive influence on minority student achievement.

One of the reason as to why the children were not familiarized with English schooling system was because their parents feeling coy to be involved in schools. One parent said that she was not comfortable with the level of English language she had, and therefore was not much involved in interacting with teachers. This finding concurs with those of Schofield (2006). Schofield says:

… in fact it is common for immigrant…parents to feel alienated, powerless, and culturally estranged from their children's school and to avoid involvement in them… In addition, immigrant parents may have quite different ideas regarding the proper role of schools and parents than do their children's teachers or feel diffident or embarrassed interacting with teachers, especially if they lack fluency in the language of the host country or have little education themselves." (pp 101)

The involvement of parents in schools or other educational institutions is relevant for all parents and all schools. Involving migrant parents, is particularly important because the parents often lack knowledge about the education system and experience a social distance from schools in the immigration country (NESSE, 2008).

Clearly, much research is needed to shade more light on Turkish Parent's perception on the challenges and experiences their children they encounter while studying in English schools. Subsequent qualitative studies need to explore parents, children and teachers and compare their findings. In addition, a triangulated research might contribute to our knowledge of the challenges and experiences that Turkish immigrant children encounter while studying in English schools. This will provide a more reliable database about Turkish family culture, educational experiences in English schools and attitudes towards studying in English schools.

Limitations of the study

Although we used stringent qualitative research methods for this study, we recognize that the validity of the findings may be affected by some limitations. The first limitation of this study is that we did notThe interviews were conducted in Turkish because the participants were not very familiar with English language. Since only one of us understood Turkish language, the other two researchers did not participate in conducting the interviews, but helped in coding and analyzing data. we feel that our interview data would have provide a strong foundation for examination of these participants' perspectives on their experiences if all of us were involved in interviewing the participants.In order to verify what is being said by the people and by the literature, participation in the actual data collection would be important to carry out. The second limitation is that we did not have enough time or financial resources to carry out fieldwork, and therefore we could only access three Turkish immigrant parents living around Bristol for the interviews. However, we feel that we could have gotten more rich information had we been able to do more than three interviews. Because only three interviews were conducted, we were not able to investigate all of the issues that we had set out to research, mainly because we had to interview the people at hand, rather than pick interviewees from a sample of people. Much of the data we could analyze was determined by what our interviewees had knowledge about. Since Turkish immigrant families are difficult to seek out within the limited time, we had to interview whoever we could get in contact with. As a consequence the data we gathered could not cover all of our research questions.

However if the researchers are to do the research again, they would include parents', pupils' and teachers' perception on challenges Turkish children face while studying in English schools. This is because they are all involved in the learning process in one way or the other and their perceptions would enrich the findings based on their experiences. Particularly where issues of culture are concerned, it would be important to get a perspective from a broad range of people, including pupils and teachers.


The study found that children respond differently to cultural diversity with respect to school environment, cultural representation, school practices, student-family-school interactions, family-school communication, involvement of families in school practices and overall school discipline. The most common challenge identified for children from Turkish immigrant families was language. Language is a medium of communication and plays a central role in the migrant integration process. Education as a core element of integration happens largely

through the medium of language.This was also featured significantly as a perceived barrier to parents' experiences of, and involvement in, their child's learning. Teachers are supposed to gain experience in teaching migrant children and thus be better prepared for their future role as teachers who will have to work with a student population that increasingly has a migration background. Regarding acquaintance to English schooling systems, the research recommends that appropriate support materials are needed for parents, that explain the English educational system, provision in English schools, and ways in which they can support their children's schooling.