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Adult Refugee Learners with Limited Literacy: Needs and Effective Responses

  • Critical Insight

Abstract and Figures

Adult refugees with limited education are a distinctive learner group with substantial and distinctive educational, social, and psychological needs. Working with these learners is a highly specialized activity, requiring high levels of educational skill and commitment. With a paucity of original research available about this group of learners, this study provides a systematic documentation of their distinctive needs as well as effective educational strategies for use with these learners. The study involved interviews with 36 adult refugees, two program co-ordinators, five course teachers, and six bilingual tutors from a community-based program in New Zealand. The challenge of working with these learners arises due not only to their experiences as refugees, but also as learners with minimal or no educational experience. Their progress depends on a skilful development of "learning to learn," acquiring basic literacy skills, personal confidence and transfer of these skills to everyday life outside the classroom.
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Adult refugee learners with limited literacy:
needs and effective responses
Dr John Benseman, Critical Insight
September 2012
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Introduction page 3
Research purpose page 4
Related research page 4
The importance of learning English and literacy skills page 5
Educational provision for refugees page 6
Learning issues page 6
Teaching strategies page 9
Educational provision page 11
The ESOL-Literacy Programme in English Language Partners page 11
Methodology page 12
Ethics page 14
Course description page 14
Findings page 16
Learners’ perspectives page 16
Key factors in learning page 18
Course tutors’ perspectives page 18
Assessment of learning impact page 20
Key strategies for success page 21
Bilingual assistant tutors’ perspectives page 23
Key factors for success page 24
Outcomes page 25
Discussion Page 25
Conclusion page 27
References page 30
Appendix A: Consent form page 32
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The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as:
‘. . . a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of
race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is
outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling
to avail himself of the protection of that country.’
( ) Currently, New
Zealand accepts up to 750 refugees each year from around the world from countries as
diverse as Somalia, Zimbabwe, Congo, Iraq, Columbia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Burma,
Bosnia, Eritrea, Iran, Bhutan and Afghanistan.
Typically, these people are ‘the casualties of crises such as brutal regimes, civil war,
anarchy and famine. Often, they are at risk because of their ethnicity, political beliefs or
religion. They may have endured persecution, torture, rape or abduction, or have
witnessed killings. Many arrive after perilous journeys and detention in refugee camps,
having lost loved ones, homes, possessions and jobs’
Once they arrive in New Zealand, the refugees who have spent time in transit camps are
initially inducted over a six-week period into local life at the Mangere Refugee Centre in
Auckland.1 They are also introduced to major refugee-focussed NGOs and other
settlement agencies. From here, the new arrivals are dispersed around the country,
going to larger population centres such as Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North,
Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch. These centres are usually chosen because there
are already compatriots settled there, as in the case of the Bhutanese in Palmerston
North and Feilding and the Columbians in the Hutt Valley. Those who have been
sponsored as part of family repatriation usually join their families directly on arrival in
New Zealand.
On reaching their new destination, a range of services come into operation to help in
the settlement process, including the Department of Labour, the Refugee Quota Branch
and its Settlement Division, Work and Income, the local health board, Refugee Services
Aotearoa, Regional Migrant Service (ARMS)2 and Refugees as Survivors3 - as well as a
range of educational groups and institutions (see Woodley & Williams, 2012 for the
example of Auckland).
Each new arrival is entitled to ESOL provision with a TEC-funded provider that usually
matches the language and literacy skills of the learners. Typically, those with more
education study at more formal institutions such as polytechnics, while those with low-
level skills attend courses run by community-based organisations such as English
Language Partners (ELP). Many often also attend non-government-funded programmes
such as those offered at local churches if they are available in their community.
1 The Centre is currently under review.
2 In Auckland only
3 In Auckland and Wellington
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Research purpose
The purpose of this study was to document and analyse the learning needs and issues
of adult refugees with low language and literacy skills by looking at how their prior
experiences and current contexts affect their educational participation and learning. In
addition, the study has sought to identify educational strategies for teaching these
learners and provide a teaching resource for other teachers based on the project’s
findings. The specific focus of the study was adult refugee learners with low-level
language and literacy skills currently enrolled in educational programmes with ELP.
Related research
The purpose of this research review is to identify any studies about the challenges (and
responses) of teaching adult refugee learners with low levels of literacy, language and
numeracy (LLN) skills in English. The prime focus of the review is on the teaching of
refugees as adult language learners, rather than broader topics such as settlement,
although some of these topics are relevant to what happens in the classroom. Much of
the literature covers immigrants generally or both immigrants and refugees; where
possible, this review has been restricted to refugees only, as Hayward (2007, p. 18)
points out there are important differences between the two groups:
Refugees’ migration is involuntary
Refugees’ migratory journeys are often precipitated by traumatic events and
sustained periods living in transit camps
Because of their sustained and prolonged losses, refugees’ coping skills may be
diminished and they may be less well equipped to deal with the new challenges
of re-settlement.
Finally, it should be noted that refugees are a diverse group educationally with some
having tertiary qualifications, but this study is concerned only with those who have low
levels of literacy skills in their first language.
There is no authoritative data on the educational qualifications of refugees, but Blaker
and Hardman (2001) report that 80% of adult quota refugees in New Zealand since
1995 have not completed a primary school education and about half of this group are
pre-literate with the remainder semi-literate. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other
Languages Aotearoa New Zealand (2003) also report that of the quota refugee intake
since 1994, 40% have no literacy skills in their own language and a further 40% who
have beginner-level English have had fewer than seven years of schooling.
The initial sweep of literature for this review produced a large body of literature about
refugees in general and one on refugee children (Hamilton & Anderson, 2000), but
overall there were very few that matched the specific focus of this review. Secondly,
many of the articles were based on writers’ opinions4 rather than original empirical
studies. The result is that only a small number of references match the review’s aims.
This paucity of pedagogically-oriented research has also been noted by writers about
New Zealand ESOL (Roach & Roskvist, 2007; Teachers of English to Speakers of Other
Languages Aotearoa New Zealand, 2003).
4 Because of the low number of studies, some opinion articles have been included where they are based
on relevant experience and credibility
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The importance of learning English and literacy skills
There is some research evidence (Strategic Social Policy Group, 2008) that shows that
becoming literate in the host country’s language is essential for making friends outside
their own community, finding and sustaining employment, as well as maintaining social
and psychological well-being. This report quotes (p. 49) Winkelmann and Winkelmann’s
study (1998: 63) on the labour market position of migrant cohorts using 1981, 1991
and 1996 Census data, which found that the incomes of migrants proficient in English
exceeded those of similar migrants who were non-proficient by approximately 37%.
They also quote a Ministry of Education report on international students showing that
those with better English language proficiency had more friends and were more
satisfied with their life in New Zealand.
Refugees are therefore often identified as a high-need target group for educational
interventions. This need is argued for both children and adults. With highly-qualified
adult refugees, the need is usually about securing employment opportunities in keeping
with their qualifications and work expertise. The New Zealand Immigration Service
report Refugee Voices (2004, p. 232) indicated that only between 12% and 53% of
refugees were working two years after arrival. Many of this group were working part-
time and were still supplementing their income with a government benefit.
For those adults with minimal or no schooling experience, the need is primarily centred
on their lack of literacy skills (including English language), often complicated by the fact
that many are not literate in their first languages. Not being literate in one’s first
language has considerable implications for learning literacy skills in a second language.
For example, if reading is not informed by the knowledge that text has meaning which
is learned by learning to read in the first language, then learning to read in a second
language will invariably be difficult and slower.
As Bigelow and Schwarz (2010, p.9)5 argue,
Besides learning specific processing skills, a literate person learns to process
information in ways qualitatively different from those of a non-literate person.
Formal schooling provides particular skills, possibly used primarily in formal
school settings, and the combination of thinking and performance skills is a
reciprocal relationship that permits learning in a formal classroom setting.
Gombert (1994) reasoned that the more education one has, the easier it is to
learn all aspects of a new language. The less education one has, the more
difficult it is to profit from formal education, where organization and thinking
skills and school-based skills are needed to succeed.
Learners who are reading for the first time in any language need to learn a range of
reading-related skills such as interpreting figures, text organisation, even oral
discrimination and picture interpretation. As Florez and Terrill (2003, p.3) point out,
‘literacy learners need to understand that texts have a beginning, a middle, and an end;
that English is read from left to right and from up to down; and that written words can
represent a story, just as pictures do. They need to be ready to learn, to see patterns,
5 This resource has the most detailed explanations of non-literate LLN learning and suggestions for
teaching strategies with these learners. See also the review of ESOL research in (Benseman, Sutton, &
Lander, 2005).
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and to associate symbols with objects.’ Even for those literate in their own language,
these skills need to be constantly developed when learning English.
Once someone has learned these sorts of skills, they can then be transferred to new
languages even if they vary significantly from the original one in which reading was
taught. However the process is further complicated if the learner comes from a country
where the language is not alphabetic (e.g. Chinese, Korean) or has a non-Roman
alphabet (e.g. Arabic, Nepalese).
Educational provision for refugees
There are a number of studies (Altinkaya & Omundsen, 1999; Gray & Elliott, 2001;
Roach & Roskvist, 2007; Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Aotearoa
New Zealand, 2003; Watts, White, & Trlin, 2001) that have detailed the overall
shortfalls and inadequacies of educational provision for adult refugees in New Zealand.
Their criticisms include not just the inadequacies of course availability (especially low-
level and low/no-cost ones), but also the irrelevance of the teaching content of many
courses. Altinkaya and Omundsen (1999) warn that the paucity of provision (p. 7) ‘has
the potential to create an underclass of refugees who subsequently experience
significant direct and indirect discrimination. This will incur significant social costs and
some economic costs (from foregone earnings and productivity) to New Zealand.’
Some writers (Altinkaya & Omundsen, 1999; New Zealand Immigration Service, 2004;
Shadbolt, 1996; Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Aotearoa New
Zealand, 2003; Watts, White, & Trlin, 2001; White, Watts, & Trlin, 2001) have also
identified specific barriers that prevent or restrict refugees’ enrolment and attendance
at classes:
lack of childcare
responsibility for caring for immediate and wider family members
health issues, including disabilities
financial barriers arising from low income to pay course fees
the need to attend paid employment, including shift work
access to, and affordability of, public transport in both urban and regional
locations limiting access to classes and to preferred courses
housing problems compounded by lack of information and awareness of
housing options and rights
gender barriers (within families and externally)
living in rural or isolated areas
understanding how ‘systems’ work in order to access information and resources.
Learning issues
Calculating how much tuition is needed to move a learner with no English experience,
to a reasonable level of fluency (a problematic notion in itself) and other literacy skills is
fraught with dangers given the wide permutations of factors involved: the learners,
their previous educational experience, personal confidence and so on. There are,
however, some crude calculations available. Florez and Terrill’s (2003) report on The
Mainstream English Language Training (MELT) Australian project for Southeast Asian
refugees in the early 80s, concluded that it takes from 500-1,000 hours of instruction
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for adults who are literate in their mother tongue, but have no prior English instruction
to reach a level where they can function satisfactorily with limited social interaction in
Blaker and Hardman (2001, p.4) quote an Australian study by Ram in 1992 (the NCELTR
project) that low-level literacy learners were found to need at least 400 hours tuition to
progress one point on the ASLPR scale. This calculation means that these learners need
between 800-1,200 hours to reach Survival English level (equivalent to 18mths – 2 years
full time). From her study of Somali refugees in Wellington, Bihi (1999) suggests a more
modest minimum of 520 hours of ESOL learning. McDermott’s study of five
programmes for adult refugees (2004) found that 100% of students who attended an
ESOL programme for more than two years had achieved an Elementary level of English
proficiency and some were working at pre-Intermediate level.
A TEC report on ESOL gaps and priorities (TEC, 2008, p. 6) acknowledged in particular
that ‘learning progress for pre-literate learners is extremely slow. Traditional
assumptions about stair-casing to higher level programmes need to be challenged in
the case of pre-literate learners.’ The report recognises that these learners’ needs are
complex and require specialist resources and teaching approaches that are culturally
and socially appropriate. An ESOL teacher of refugees (Kaur, 2011) also confirms the
slow rate of progress with non-literate learners when first starting their courses due to
poor concentration and short-term memory. For these reasons, she recommends no
more than 10 learners in a class.
Most studies (see for example Hayward, 2007 for some of this literature) report the
importance of understanding the psychological trauma that many refugee learners have
endured prior to arrival in their new countries. Trauma can include physical and
psychological torture, living in primitive conditions in transit camps for long periods,
sustained separation from family and friends and cultural alienation in their new host
societies. Adkins, Sample, and Birman (1999) discuss the role of stress that occurs when
the burden imposed on people by external events or internal pressures on their lives
exceeds their resources to cope. They identify three types of stress that refugees face:
1. Migration stress. Moving to a new country triggers a number of stressful life
events at one time. When migration occurs suddenly as a result of political
violence, war, or other catastrophes, refugees are functioning under conditions
out of their control. Moreover, many of the losses associated with migration
represent the loss of the usual coping resources - such as family, friends,
surrounding community - that people would ordinarily rely on to help them cope
with stress.
2. Acculturative stress results from having to learn to function in a culture different
from the one an individual is born and raised in. Immigrants and refugees often
do not expect that the very fabric of life around them will be profoundly
different. Ways in which people relate to each other and form and sustain
friendships will be different, and how children go to schools and are socialised
will change. Even the most simple of daily tasks, such as shopping for food or
asking for directions, can become challenges involving not only the language
barrier, but also the potential for deep cultural misunderstanding. New refugees
and immigrants can feel that their very identity is threatened in the new culture
(Ullman, 1997).
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3. Traumatic stress results from extreme events that cause harm, injury, or death,
such as natural disasters, accidents, assault, war-related experiences, and torture.
Generally, it is believed that injury resulting from accidents and natural disasters
is less traumatic than injury resulting from wilful acts by other human beings,
such as torture. It is inevitable that individuals suffering such events will be
changed by that experience, and research suggests that these changes will be
psychological, social, and physical (Pynoos, Sorenson, & Steinberg, 1993).
Adkins, Sample, and Birman suggest a range of things to counter the effects of stress
on their learners:
Teachers can learn to recognise symptoms of mental illness, or abrupt
behavioural changes that disrupt the class
Teachers can discuss health and cultural content relevant to learners
Teachers can network with others who have more knowledge and
In her study of eight refugees and ten educators using in-depth interviews, Magro
(2006-2007) concluded that while it is important not to pathologise the effects that war
and other catastrophes may have on learners, these factors should also not be
underestimated as learners come to grips with living in their new society. Even for less
traumatised learners, Roberts et al. (2004, p.40) point out that ‘despite their supportive
learning environment the students are suffering from loneliness, depression and lack of
appropriate expert counselling, lack of legal and language rights and information and
have few opportunities to speak English outside the class and to integrate with
members of the host community.’
Magro therefore argues that resettlement issues cannot be separated from language
development and teachers should work from a broad definition of literacy that includes
not only numeracy, problem solving, and the ability to read, write and speak English,
but also emotional and social literacies such as motivation, interpersonal effectiveness,
critical thinking, and cultural awareness.
Some writers (Altinkaya & Omundsen, 1999; Gray, A & Elliott, S, 2001; McMillan &
Gray, 2009; Sobrun-Maharaj, Tse, Hoque, & Rossen, 2008) have pointed out that
particular groups of refugees have greater or distinctive needs relative to others. These
groups include older people, asylum seekers, those with physical disabilities, women
and youth (potentially a lost generation who feel they don’t fit into either their original
or their new country).
In terms of specific issues relating to teaching refugees, Kaur’s personal experience
(2011) as a New Zealand teacher of refugees lists common issues with these learners:
Lack of education in country of origin
Not literate in mother tongue
Concentration problems
Self-perception - low self-esteem is matched with low expectations
Low motivation, interest and confidence
Fear of authority figures
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Sleep problems and tiredness.
Teaching strategies
In terms of original research, there are only a few studies available. In a study about
Sudanese refugees in Australia interviewing 30 experienced teachers, Burgoyne and
Hull (2007) found that speaking, listening, reading, writing, numeracy and learning
skills simultaneously may be too great a learning burden for these learners. They argue
that there needs to be greater flexibility in course content and outcomes so that
learners can concentrate initially on oral English language skills. They also conclude (p.
7) that the teaching of Sudanese refugees would work better if:
registered training organisations provided teachers with relevant background
information on the Sudanese students
class sizes were reduced from 15 to 10 students per teacher for these learners
Sudanese learners could be taught separately from learners from other
With regard to this last point, Barton and Pitt (2003, p.12) describe a successful
programme for traumatised refugees in Sweden who would normally have dropped out
of mainstream ESOL provision. The course integrated educational needs with the
learners’ physical and psychological needs. The course evaluation concluded that
traumatised refugees need to be identified early and given special support, as those
who have failed in other courses have little chance of successfully learning Swedish.
In their reflection on working with low-level refugee learners in New Zealand, Blaker
and Hardman (2001) stress the obvious difficulty of working with groups of
heterogeneous learners with multiple languages. They emphasise the necessity of
involving bilingual tutors to bridge this divide and reduce the time needed to
communicate effectively. A New Zealand evaluation of 62 ESOL learners by Shameem et
al. (2002) has also demonstrated better results for those who were taught using
bilingual tutors compared with those taught by English-speaking tutors. Results were
also better for those with greater educational experience and who had longer periods
of teaching. McDermott’s evaluation of five refugee programmes (2004) also reported
the value of ‘ethno-specific learning’ and having bilingual support. These programmes
achieved very high rates of student retention (up to 100%) and learner motivation, with
the greatest impediments being childcare and transportation difficulties.
There has also been criticism of the teaching skills of some ESOL teachers working with
low-skill refugees with limited English skills. These writers (Teachers of English to
Speakers of Other Languages Aotearoa New Zealand, 2003; Watts, White, & Trlin,
2001) have recommended greater professionalism, increased professional development
(especially about working with low-level learners) and greater access to cross-cultural
training and information and translated materials. A New Zealand survey of 280
immigrant learners (White, Watts, & Trlin, 2001) reported that many were dissatisfied
with the lack of translators, the high course costs and the lack of opportunities to
practise their English. It should be pointed out that there is a diverse range of ESOL
provision catering for refugees and migrants, from informal community-based courses
through to formal tertiary education programmes (Woodley & Williams, 2012).
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Finally, in terms of the teaching content for refugee programmes, McDermott (2004, p.
6) reported that ‘most students aspire to independence in everyday life’ such as daily
tasks of shopping and visiting their doctor. In an English study of seven asylum-seekers,
Roberts et al. (2004, p.25) found that this group of students wanted some key things in
their courses:
Greater independence and control in contrast to the lack of control over their
past lives
Integration into family networks and communities
Emotional support.
The authors list a range of strategies for working with learners not literate in their first
language including mother tongue literacy classes to improve attendance and helping
them acquire literacy skills in their second language. They recommend these classes
should be separate from those for other beginning-level English language learners and
particular attention paid to cultural influences and their experiences (or lack thereof)
with formal education.
Although their study was wider than refugee programmes, Condelli, Wrigley & Yoon’s
study (2009, p 152) of nearly 500 learners’ outcomes using pre- and post-course
assessments provided some clear indications of effective practices related to the
outcomes achieved:
1. Instructional strategies
a. Bringing in the ‘outside’, making connections to real issues and events
b. Use of students’ mother tongue for clarification
c. Varied practice and interaction
d. Emphasis on oral communication
2. Programme practices
a. Longer duration and intensity of classes
3. Student factors
a. Higher attendance
b. Prior education and skills
c. Age - younger learners learning faster than older students.
With regard to the use of bilingual support, the authors concluded (p. 153) that,
Beginning ESL literacy students are not able to discuss options or articulate
opinions to a deep level if they still struggle with even basic conversation in the
new language. They may be able to understand a simple scenario presented to
them, but they will be hard pressed to discuss the situation in detail or suggest
more than the simplest course of action… By giving students a chance to use
their own language in discussions, teachers can help students think about
consequences. By mixing the use of English with opportunities to use the native
language where appropriate, the learning of English can be reinforced.
Florez, M., & Terrill, L. (2003) and Kaur (2011) also provide useful lists of specific
teaching strategies to help overcome teaching issues with refugee learners. The former
is from the perspective of learners, while the latter is from a practising teacher.
This brief literature review on teaching refugees has shown that research on this topic is
minimal at best and severely lacking in the New Zealand context, especially with respect
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to recent studies. While there is unanimity that refugees clearly warrant high quality
educational programmes, most writers argue that current provision falls short in both
availability and quality. Refugees with low literacy skills are a distinctive group of
learners for ESOL teachers to engage. They bring with them diverse and extensive
experiences that few other New Zealand literacy learners could ever imagine or match.
Inevitably, the effects of these experiences are integral to what happens in the ESOL
teaching situation. The fact that many are not literate in their first languages also means
that teachers cannot assume that they have many of the literacy-related skills that are
normally taken for granted. Due to these factors, it is predictable that results for these
learners will be slower to achieve and will require a skilful repertoire of teaching skills
and commitment to achieve satisfactory outcomes for these learners.
The present study therefore provides a useful exploration of the learning needs and
issues of adult refugees with low language and literacy skills by looking at how their
prior experiences and current contexts affect their educational participation and
learning. It also explores the educational implications of these needs for teachers
working in this area.
Educational provision
UNHCR quota refugees spend six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Education Centre:
during that time they receive orientation in language and New Zealand systems.
Diagnostic assessments are carried out during this time and each person is involved in
establishing their individual portfolio outlining learning and settlement goals.
At the end of the six week orientation, refugees are settled in one of the following
areas: Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North/Feilding, Wellington region, Nelson,
There is a variety of ESOL provision and providers for refugees and migrants depending
on the level of language, type of previous education and goals. The main challenges are
to provide services at the very lowest levels (where learning and teaching is intensive
and measurable progress is slow) and services which take into account the particular
backgrounds of refugee adults.
The ESOL-Literacy Programme in English Language Partners
English Language Partners is a national provider of specialist tuition in English language
and literacy. Refugees are prioritised in the classes which are held in all the settlement
areas. Research based content and assessments are used, including diagnostic
placement assessments, learning plans and individual portfolios. The syllabus is partially
negotiated with the learners, who are involved in goal setting, choice of topics,
monitoring and measurement of progress. Classes are double-staffed with a tutor and a
bilingual assistant: this allows support from the first language where needed.
In common with most adult language learners, learning strengths vary from individual
to individual: many learners have an excellent aural memory but find writing difficult.
Others are more confident with reading and less so with oral language. Teaching is
flexible to meet the needs of heterogeneous groups.
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Informed by the literature review and discussions with key informants in ELP, a set of
semi-structured interview schedules was designed and submitted for approval to an
internal ELP research advisory group to ensure that they met both the research purposes
and cultural appropriateness for the intended interviewees. The proposal was also
approved by the ELP Ethnic Advisory Group, especially in relation to interpreting and
consent procedures.
Auckland and Palmerston North were chosen as the sites for the study, based on their
reasonable accessibility to the researchers and for good numbers of suitable
interviewees. From a potential total of approximately 140 refugees in the two areas, a
sample of 40 was chosen by the course coordinators. They were chosen on the basis of
having completed enough tuition to be able to comment on their experiences in the
class, were confident enough to provide feedback, could be accessed during site visits
and had first languages in common to make interpretation in groups possible.
At each site, interviews6 were held with programme coordinators (2), course tutors (5),
bilingual tutors (6) and learners (36). An additional group of four learners were not
interviewed due to the non-availability of an interpreter on the scheduled day. In
addition, both researchers observed two classrooms prior to the interviews to gain an
overview of how the classes functioned. These observations also served as useful
introductions to the learners. Table 1 below is a summary of the study sample.
6 Interviews were carried out by the author and Debora Potgieter (assistant researcher). The content of
the interviews varied across the different interview groups. The interviews with participants covered their
experiences pre and post arrival in New Zealand, how they were recruited into their class, subsequent
experiences in the class and future aspirations, Interviews with the other stakeholders focused mostly on
the educational aspects of the class.
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Table 1 – Number and characteristics of interviewees
Site Tutors Bilingual
Learners Languages Countries of
PN/Feilding 1 1 12 Nepali
Wesley Centre 2 3 12 Tamil
Sri Lanka
Massey Centre 1 1 9 Arabic
New Lynn Centre 1 1 3 Parsi
TOTAL 5 6 36
Of the 36 interviewed, 29 were women and seven were men. Their average age was
44.2 years, ranging from seventy-one years to twenty-one years. The great majority
were married, with four widowed (all in their home countries), one was divorced and
four were single. All have at least some family in New Zealand, including grand-parents,
siblings and grand-children. Of those who have children, the average number of
children per interviewee is just over two. Five said that they had sons or daughters still
either in their home country or in North America.
Figure 1 below gives an indication of where the interviewees have spent their lives to
date. The graph clearly shows the low number of years spent in New Zealand (4.9
years), but also how variable their experiences are in relation to transit camps. Overall,
they have spent 15.3 years in camps, but about a third have not been in camps at all,
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although they may have spent some time in other countries before coming to New
Zealand. The graph also illustrates how the great majority fall in the 30-60-year age
Figure 1 – Refugee interviewees’ prior living locations
The learners were interviewed in focus groups (mainly groups of three, but one of five)
to provide a supportive environment among compatriots and ensure that interpreters
were available. These focus groups appeared to work well in terms of generating data
and ensuring that the interview questions were clearly understood by all of the group.
Each interviewee had the ELP consent form explained orally (via the interpreters for the
learners) and all signed it prior to the interview starting. A copy of the consent form is
included in Appendix A.
Course description
The 36 learners were spread over six classes held at five different venues. All of the
Auckland venues are local community centres, while the Palmerston North venue is the
local ELP rooms and the Feilding one is a church hall. The classes currently have 20-26
learners, with new learners still joining as the course progressed; in one course, six new
learners had joined in the past week. All the classes had a tutor and a bilingual tutor
who works alongside the course tutor. All tutors are paid. Most of the learners attend a
total of 10 hours each week (usually over four sessions). Some also attend additional
teaching sessions with groups like local churches and/or receive some tuition from an
ELP Home Tutor.
The teaching content of the courses is broadly set by the national ELP curriculum,
although most of the tutors said that they closely followed suggestions from the
learners themselves and/or from current issues and needs arising from the learners. As
one key informant said ‘it’s survival English, and eventually they can manage their own
lives independently.’ Learner progress is assessed using the ELP assessment procedures
against profiles together with learner portfolios.
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In most cases, learners are recruited through Refugee Services social workers or
contacts in their own communities. Course tutors were often notified informally of new
arrivals (‘although you only count them when they actually arrive – it’s all very
unpredictable’ one manager commented) who were then introduced to the tutor and
the class when it was felt they were ready to begin. Although much of the paperwork
in relation to the refugees was done by the national office of ELP, there were still more
administrative demands for local ELP administrators than with other ELP students – for
example, with WINZ and Housing New Zealand making constant unrealistic demands
(e.g. requirement to present for courses or work interviews when they have zero
English). The high rate of staff turnover in these agencies means that ELP staff are
constantly responding to the same issue because the previous staff member had moved
on and the replacement had no understanding or knowledge of the issues involved.
There were consistent comments that course attendance was unfailingly high – as one
manager said, ‘they just love being here, they’re certainly not being forced.’ The great
majority of the learners with pre-school children had made childcare arrangements
(either informal or available at the centre at a cost of about $3 a day); we only observed
one child in the classrooms.
We were able to observe four classes in session. In all four, the class numbers averaged
approximately 24 learners, with one tutor and one bilingual tutor. There were clear
variations in English language skills within the classes; ranging from pre-literate, usually
working in very small groups with the bilingual tutor if they spoke a common language,
to Level Two or Three, working almost independently on an ongoing project. Typically,
the tutor was directing a main group activity, introducing for example days of the week,
which was then followed by an individual activity such as completing a worksheet. This
activity was often completed in pairs or involved informal peer teaching among the
learners. While the learners were completing these tasks, the tutor would circulate
among the learners, helping where needed or work with smaller groups on another
activity. Learners usually sat next to others who spoke the same language, which
facilitated their interaction and mutual help.
The bilingual assistant tutors (BLT) were used in a number of ways. Where BLTs had
strong English skills and/or teaching skills, they would play a more prominent role in the
classroom, supplementing the tutor’s teaching in a number of ways: repeating
instructions to individual learners, repeating the pronunciation of key words and
phrases, translating vocabulary into learners’ first language (L1), detecting issues as they
arose, providing positive feedback in English and L1, setting supplementary work for
those who had completed tasks, asking the tutor to clarify or repeat instructions,
working with individual learners who were struggling with tasks. With BLTs who were
less confident with English and/or were less confident in teaching skills, their main task
in the classroom usually involved working with lower-level small groups and individual
learners on activities directed by the tutor.
The BLTs working with learners who shared a language in common (other than English)
clearly found it easier to work with all the class members. For example, in one class
where the BLT’s first language was the same as that of all the learners present, the
interaction was unrestrained and flowed readily. In other cases, the BLT shared a first
language with some of the learners, had some knowledge of some other learners’ L1,
but shared only their limited English with the rest of the class. In this case, the BLT’s
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availability to learners was variable and therefore tended to be concentrated with the
first two groups.
Learners’ perspectives
A total of 36 learners were interviewed. As explained in the Methodology section earlier
in this report, they came from 10 different countries, speaking a similar number of first
languages as well as a number of second and third languages in addition to English.
Their diversity extended to a range of religious backgrounds, different castes7 and
settlement journeys en route to New Zealand. The great majority had not attended any
schooling in their home country, which means that most are not literate in any
language, including L1. A few had attended school for up to three years and a smaller
number had attended up to eight years. This latter group can read and write a little in
their L1.
Their journeys from their homeland to New Zealand varied considerably. Some had
spent many years in transit camps, while others had come directly to New Zealand as
part of a family re-unification process. The trauma they had experienced also varied
considerably; in one group, most of the men had been imprisoned and in some cases,
tortured. Some of the women in this group had been raped. Those who had been in
transit camps had faced many years of uncertainty about their future, social dislocation
from family and friends, resentment from local people and prolonged periods of
inactivity and uncertainty while they awaited decisions about their future settlement.
The effects of this internment have often had long-term effect on these refugees: poor
health (chronic conditions that re-occur periodically as well as long-term disabilities
(from severely broken bones for example), neurological dysfunction (demonstrated by
high levels of anxiety in unfamiliar settings such as the classroom) and feelings of
alienation in their new setting. One BLT commented that one of the most enduring
negative effects of living in transit camps is a deep-seated feeling of dependency
because they were unable to work or provide their daily necessities of living (provided
by those running the camps).
Only a few had any English prior to arriving in New Zealand.8 Some had picked up some
English during their time in transit camps, but this occurred largely on an informal
basis.9 Tutors commented that those starting the course with some English tend to have
very little comprehension and operate on a ‘word-by-word translation’ model of
The great majority of the participants had been recruited to their course by a social
worker (usually from Refugee Services), an extended family member, a friend, through a
government agency such as Work and Income or from their own enquiries. The process
of linking into courses appears to function very well, probably because of new arrivals’
close links with a range of social service agencies working to facilitate their settlement
7 Religious and caste differences mean that tutors need to proceed carefully: for example in relation to
food preparation and consumption.
8 According to ELP assessments, the learners are predominantly preliterate through to a maximum of
Profile 2 when starting on ELP courses.
9 One person commented that because transit camp inhabitants do not know where they are going to be
settled, it is not clear which language they should endeavour to learn even if the opportunity is available.
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and also because of the tight compatriot communities that they quickly become part of
when they arrive.
About a third of the group had been attending a literacy course for six months or less,
another third for approximately 6-18 months and a third for two years or more. One
person had been attending classes ‘on and off’ for about 10 years. Several others said
that they had dropped out of classes in the past and had attended several other classes
before enrolling in the current ELP one. They had dropped out mainly because they
found them too difficult or because of domestic issues. Several had had their
attendance interrupted because they moved around within New Zealand, such as
needing to move from Christchurch following the February 2011 earthquake.
Asked what they wanted to achieve by attending their class, all expressed slight
variations on learning enough English to be able to carry out daily tasks whether
shopping, speaking to their kiwi neighbours or making enough progress to enrol in a
higher level course at a polytechnic. Underpinning all their replies was a strong desire to
achieve personal independence so that they do not have to rely on their children,
spouse or a third party in order to do things such as talk to their doctor or their
children’s teachers. This desire was expressed by both men and women and especially
by the older interviewees. About half said that they wanted to be able to get a job,
although most realised that this was a long-term goal given their current level of
English. Several older men said that while health issues precluded being able to hold
down a full-time job, they would like to volunteer their time in the community – as one
man said, ‘so that I can repay New Zealand’- in return for what they have received.
Other aims included to learn enough English to help support their children to finish
school and to help them achieve what they want to do, to understand what their
children were saying to their friends, to read street names, to identify food items when
shopping, to get a driver’s licence (mainly women) and to solve problems for their
The interviewees were asked their opinions of the current course they were attending.
The responses were unanimously positive, with specific mentions of their tutors, the
BLTs, the programme, the location, the timing of the class, being able to practise their
English, various aspects of the teaching (‘repeating until I remember’), achieving
particular skills (e.g. being able to write name and address, using a bus, talking on the
phone, using an ATM, using the Internet) and the personal support they have received
since arriving in New Zealand. Many mentioned the positive value of having a BLT
involved in their class.
Asked if there were any aspects of the course they did not like or would like changed,
only a few identified any issues. These criticisms included the inclusion of children in
some classes because of the noise, taking a break in the middle of their lesson (‘time is
too short’), having to put furniture away every day, the crowded conditions in the
classroom and transport difficulties.
They were also asked if the course had helped them achieve their personal goals. Most
responses to this question were positive, giving examples of tasks learners are now able
to do (or start to do) because of the skills that they have learned on the course – as one
learner said, ‘it’s helped a lot, I knew nothing before coming to class. Now I can go
shopping on my own and pay my bills. I can take my wife to the hospital for her
appointments without an interpreter.’ Another said, ‘I can recognise my street name
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now when I see it and greet people on the way to class.’ Most of these achievements
are of an immediate nature helping them function more easily, while longer-term
achievements like getting a job are seen as aspirational and dependent on achieving
greater fluency and confidence in English and literacy skills.
The interviewees were all asked what they found their greatest challenge(s) as learners.
Many were not able to articulate specific challenges or said that they had no problems.
Most of the challenges mentioned related to learning processes: being unable to hear
sounds, speak easily, retain new learning (‘I’m too old’), spell English words or
understand word meanings. Other challenges related to wider issues: lack of time to
practise amid a busy family life, tiredness, homesickness, depression, lack of access to
the tutor due to the large numbers in the class and constant new arrivals, sight
problems and coping with family members’ health issues.
Key factors in learning
Finally, they were asked what best helps them learn. The responses to this question
varied considerably, but often included some aspect of the BLT role on-site in the
class.10 Other suggestions included:
the value of those with the same language working together
the strong support from other learners and tutors
practising outside class
receiving immediate feedback from the tutor identifying errors
writing two sentences daily using words put up by the tutor
use of writing to help memorising
clear explanations by the tutor of what is expected in a task
homework sheets to practise on
constant practice
pictures/illustrations to indicate meanings
use of CDs to consolidate learning
revision of previous session – ‘it helps us remember’
practising question and answer routines
repetition to consolidate learning.
Course tutors’ perspective
Five course tutors were interviewed. All were employed by ELP; some also taught non-
refugee classes, but had been chosen for the current course specifically for their
expertise in teaching low-level literacy to refugees. One manager commented that they
have to proceed carefully when selecting and introducing new tutors. Even some of
their experienced ESOL tutors had not lasted in the refugee classes as they were unused
to the slow rate of progress. In some cases, inappropriate tutors had meant losing both
the tutor and learners.
All the tutors were female and had formal teaching qualifications, including Certificate
in Teaching English as a Second Language, Certificate in Adult Teaching, Bachelor of
10 One person said they had a BLT available to their previous class, but this person was not always
available to the class.
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Education (specialising in Adult Education), Graduate Diploma in TESOL, Diploma of
Teaching, Higher Diploma of Teaching, Masters in Applied Linguistics and Master of
Literacy Education. Most had several qualifications, one of which was at post-graduate
The tutors had an average of over 13 years’ ESOL teaching experience, ranging from
four to 25 years. Most had also done some ESOL home tutoring and several had
extensive experience teaching in schools, including one person with more than 40
years. All had been involved in teaching refugees for more than two years, with some
having up to ten years’ experience. One tutor speaks English as a second language
Asked what they wanted to achieve with their current class, all the tutors said that they
aimed for fluency in basic conversational English language for everyday living, especially
to help learners solve problems and challenges and thereby achieve greater
independence. While all mentioned oral skills as the primary aim, some also specified
literacy aims such as writing and reading. Several pointed out that this aim was quite
basic in most cases because the learners also had limited literacy skills in their first
language. In some cases, it involved discerning initial word sounds, learning motor skills
for forming letters, learning a new alphabet, recalling previous learning, understanding
the direction of text (and the fact that English text sits on top of a line rather than
underneath), understanding new word orders and learning to listen, analyse and reflect
using questions. As one tutor said, ‘it takes a while for some of them to understand the
difference between a question and an answer, let alone getting them to start asking
questions or responding to them.’ Another tutor stressed the importance of integrating
the teaching of literacy skills with oral language skills.
Alongside these aims, all mentioned wanting to provide an introduction to successfully
living in the New Zealand environment. As one tutor said, ‘I want them to have good
experiences in their host country to introduce them here and help them integrate.’
Other aims mentioned included learners gaining general confidence, achieving a sense
of accomplishment and feeling welcome and supported.
They were then asked what they feel constitutes success in the light of these aims.
Here, several tutors talked about the importance of seeing changes in how their
learners perceived themselves – ‘if they are happy, engaged in their learning and
realising that they can have success, they can do more than before.’ Another tutor
looked for changes in specific patterns of interaction: replying when asked a question,
remembering from previous lessons, being able to discern all the words in a sentence,
understanding the correspondence between words and sounds, using written prompts
for speaking and transferring learning into new words. One tutor looks for changes in
how learners participate in their community and especially in family life, where there are
often parents with no English and where there is a strong reliance on children whose
language skills have developed more strongly than the adults. Gaining confidence in
English in these cases helps restore the confidence and feelings of self-worth of the
learners as parents within their family.
As all of the tutors have had experience teaching ESOL with non-refugees, they were
asked what differences they noticed in teaching refugees compared with other ESOL
classes. Several mentioned the effects of psychological trauma on the ability to learn
(usually in terms of poor attention span and ‘nervous energy’), general homesickness
20 | Page
and dealing with dislocated families where some family members are still in dangerous
situations, but the most frequent comment related to the low levels of literacy skill,
which meant that the refugees had to ‘learn to learn’, picking up many basic skills (for
example, establishing routines, setting goals, interpreting symbolic representations such
as maps and diagrams, dealing with abstractions, sitting at a table, understanding rules
of appropriate behaviour, following instructions, using glue) that teachers take for
granted in other ESOL classes. As one tutor said, ‘you have to start learning from the
absolute beginning, you can’t take anything for granted.’ Other differences included
very low levels of ambition ‘because they don’t know yet what they can do.’
With such low levels of basic learning skills, tutors find that learners are not able to
work on tasks independently (either at home or in the classroom) as they are reluctant
to ask for help, or if they do, find it hard to specify their difficulty. They also felt that
refugees take longer to retain new learning. One very experienced tutor said she
estimated that her refugee learners took 4-5 times longer to consolidate their new skills
than other ESOL learners.
Other challenges are probably not unique to refugee learners, but are present
nonetheless. For example, because of traditional perceptions of teachers and high initial
dependency, most learners tend to see their tutors as experts to be revered, the sole
source of learning and particularly as one who imparts knowledge. This ‘teacher as
expert’ perception makes it difficult to initiate learner-centred activities where learners
are encouraged to function in small groups, where they provide mutual help and
support or where individual learners are set independent tasks. Several tutors
commented that learners found it difficult to work in this learner-centred way initially,
but gradually became comfortable with it over a period of months. New learners then
joining the class often joined in more readily because current class members helped
socialise them into these new activities.
Tutors reported no difficulties with recruitment processes or attendance. The only
difficulties with attendance were due to what tutors see as valid reasons such as
religious celebrations, bad weather (having to walk long distances to class) and coping
with family crises and illness.
There were varied reports about completing tasks at home. Some tutors said that it was
too difficult (especially with low-level learners and those with large families) and
therefore did not set any. Others felt that homework was worthwhile, even if some had
difficulty with completion. In some cases, it prompted valuable developments such as
parents and children all doing their homework together and, in one class, three women
who now meet on a regular basis to work on their homework. Higher-level learners
tended to ask for additional work between sessions.
Assessment of learning impact
Typical assessment regimes included assessments using the ELP Assessment Kit twice a
year (after Terms 2 and 4),11 assessments of topics at the end of each term and ongoing
(formative) assessment as an integral part of teaching. While reading and writing
assessments are formal, listening and speaking tend to be more informal based on
11 Several tutors thought these assessments were too frequent given the slow rate of progress of many
21 | Page
teacher observation and checklists. All assessment material and ongoing samples of
learner work are kept in individual learner portfolios.
Asked for their opinions about the assessments required of them, several tutors
commented that they thought there were too many formal assessments required (‘it
takes a long time, it’s a complicated process and energy-consuming’) and that they
relied more heavily on their professional judgement. One tutor commented, ‘it
[assessment] includes all the skills, but it’s too time-consuming to be comfortable,
whereas ongoing assessment is very useful.’ Another challenged the adequacy of the
assessment tools because there is a ‘mis-match between the tests and what the student
is being taught. Some of the tests are given repeatedly so the students become familiar
with the tests.’
Irrespective of the assessment tools being used, all the tutors agreed that most of the
learners’ gains are ‘small and incremental.’ One tutor explained, ‘progress is slow and
variable. It varies according to things like age and their previous education. Young
learners with some schooling make much faster progress than older ones who have
never been to school. Some take 4-5 years to get to a point where they are confident
and comfortable with ‘survival English’ and can leave the class – but there’s always
pressure from WINZ to get into jobs.’ Another tutor challenged the reliability of the
results as the tests are not standardised and the conditions for teaching are not
suitable, ‘so you can’t guarantee the accuracy of testing.’
In terms of impact outside the classroom, the tutors had varied viewpoints. One tutor
was cautious about their progress – ‘it’s hard to say, they say that they are more relaxed
and competent, but it’s slow progress though.’ Others were more confident that their
learners were making progress, mainly because the course content was strongly
influenced by the learners generating their own topics of current interest or need. One
commented, ‘they are more confident, it broadens their outlook and makes New
Zealand a little more familiar and comfortable.’ Another was more adamant – ‘there’s
been a visible improvement. They can make themselves understood, they have better
access to health services because they can communicate with doctors and so on with
increased confidence and higher self-esteem.’
Key strategies for success
The tutors were asked to identify specific successful teaching strategies for literacy
classes involving pre-literate refugees:
‘being human’ – owning up to mistakes (useful in de-mystifying the teacher as
expert), being prepared to be light-hearted when appropriate, being self-
effacing, using touch when appropriate (even with men)
The importance of catering for everyone in the class, including higher-level
learners who can easily be forgotten
Ensuring that learners have all the requisite ‘learning blocks’ on which to build
higher levels of learning – ‘never assume they understand things we take for
granted (like what a full stop is for) and if it takes a long time, then it takes a
long time’
Importance of everyone experiencing success by pitching teaching at the right
level for the learner
22 | Page
Ensuring relevance of teaching content by using ‘realia’ of everyday life tasks and
Approaching tasks in several different ways (e.g. using pictures, speech and
words) to ensure relevance; being prepared to rephrase and re-present if not
Importance of teaching all four literacy skills (reading, writing, listening and
speaking); ensure that writing is not the ‘forgotten skill’
Constantly reviewing skills – ‘re-visit and re-cycle as much as possible by
choosing resources that repeat prior learning to help them be confident’
Importance of self-efficacy through praising achievement– ‘I can do this’
The value of a cycle of modelling/acting/role-play/re-cycle/reflection/practise in
Importance of basic list of 220 sight words, with some taught every day
Phonics, especially for low-level learners
‘Seizing the moment’, being responsive in your teaching, looking for
opportunities to maximise learning with individuals
Dictation with all levels.
As the use of BLTs is an integral part of teaching these courses, the tutors were asked
for their assessments of this strategy. Their responses were universally positive. They
valued their BLTs for a range of reasons: acting as a role model, helping identify and
resolve issues in learners’ wider lives, providing instant clarification of language-related
difficulties, providing help in small-group work, acting as an intermediary generally
between the tutor and learners, picking up subtle cultural signals from learners,
motivating and affirming individual learners and helping organise class events and
outings. BLTs are also key to coping with large classes.
There were also a number of difficulties or limitations with the use of BLTs in some
cases: restrictions when the BLT did not speak some of the learners’ languages,
limitations when a few BLTs themselves had limited English skills and a danger that
some learners become dependent on the BLT’s translation when they should be
working harder to understand things themselves.12
Finally, the tutors were asked for any general reflections about what they had learned
as a result of teaching their refugee course. One tutor said that working with such low-
level learners had ‘made me think a lot more deeply about my teaching and broadened
my teaching skills.’ The course had also helped her empathise more with her learners
and see learning from their perspective.
Several tutors commented that working with refugees had made them more sensitive
to cultural issues, giving them greater understanding of cultural barriers both inside and
outside the classroom (especially the discrimination refugees face) – ‘it’s taught me how
to meld different cultures together and about tragedy and dislocation.’ Another
commented that ‘you can never assume they see things the same way as you do’ and
that ‘even if their progress can be slow, everyone will learn, even the elderly.’ One very
experienced ESOL tutor said that the course had taught her that while teaching in
12 One tutor commented that some learners who did not share a language with the BLT appeared to
make faster progress because they had to work harder at understanding the tutor on their own.
23 | Page
context is important, she now places more importance on teaching out of context with
regular phonics spots, sight reading and constructing sentences as valuable activities.
Bilingual assistant tutors’ perspectives
Six bilingual tutors were interviewed, one in Palmerston North and the rest in Auckland.
They originally came from Bhutan, Afghanistan (2), Ethiopia and Iran (2). Most spoke at
least three languages (including English), with one person speaking six. In most cases,
they had learned at least some English in their home country, usually at school. Several
had also attended English language classes in transit camps. One tutor had picked up
English when working in a New Zealand factory and later supplemented this through
the ELP Home Tutor programme. Several had also attended polytechnic courses in New
Zealand and gained certificates in English. Most were reasonably fluent in English to a
level where they freely conversed in their interviews. Two were a little hesitant and
struggled to express themselves at times.
Formal qualifications ranged from none to a PhD; in addition, one had a vocational
qualification. All had completed the ELP 2-day bilingual certificate course and one had
trained as a schoolteacher while in a transit camp. This person had considerable
teaching experience in schools teaching mixed-age classes, a second had tertiary
teaching experience in a specialist technology field and another had some early
childhood teaching experience.
In sum, while sharing similar backgrounds to those of their compatriot learners, the
BLTs were from very diverse backgrounds linguistically, culturally and socially; they also
had a diverse range of educational and professional qualifications and teaching
experience. All however, have the ELP BLT training in common.
Asked how they saw their role as BLTs, all mentioned ‘supporting’ and ‘assisting’ the
class tutor in a collaborative way. They identified a range of ways they do this: for
example, interpreting and explaining for the learners, facilitating communication
generally, explaining cultural customs to the tutor and working with individual learners
on tasks set by the tutor. All the BLTs were clear that the teaching agenda is set by the
class tutor and that it is the role of the BLT to help achieve the tasks specified by the
tutor – ‘she explains what she wants and I translate, work with the students, making
sure they know what to do.’
As one BLT explained, ‘it’s important to make the students feel safe – they know there
will be someone who can explain.’ Another explained, ‘[it’s about] filling the gap,
working like a bridge, explaining when they don’t understand either in English or [L1].’
This BLT said that it was important that the BLT shares the learner background with the
tutor in order to explain why learners do or don’t do things, as most of the learners had
never been to school and didn’t always understand what was expected of them.
Asked to reflect on their experiences as BLTs, all were unanimous about it being a
positive experience – as one said, ‘it works well, I am happy.’ Several said that the role
could be frustrating at times, mainly due to learners’ difficulties in achieving their goals.
The BLTs named two key outcomes for the learners: improving their language skills in
order to become independent and overcoming cultural barriers in order to integrate
into New Zealand society and achieve healthy lifestyles in their new environment – ‘[it’s
great] every time a learner achieves their own small goal, maybe writing their name, go
24 | Page
shopping or whatever.’ One BLT said that her ultimate goal with her learners was that
‘they can solve their problems by themselves – one day!’
The BLTs were also asked to list particular challenges they found working with low-level
refugee learners. Specific factors or issues they identified included:
Coping with constant influxes of new learners who need to be integrated into
the class routines as well as learn to be learners
Coping with the demands of large classes, often in confined spaces
Coping with multi-level classes
Being able to identify what learners specifically need help with
‘Getting them to understand’ – especially with instructions
Giving due attention to single learners whose L1 is different from others in the
Lack of patience as the tutor and BLT endeavour to provide individual attention
in a class of 20+ - ‘they need a lot of help and can’t work on their own much’13
Coping with the different ethnic groups in the class where these groups had very
different values (‘there are different sets of rules for some groups’), for example
in relation to gender issues.
Achieving progress with older learners (several BLTs disputed this observation)
Difficulties in completing tasks outside the classroom because of learners’ low
level of basic skills and very limited access to help.
There were also mentions of factors outside the classroom such as transport, financial
difficulties, looking after relatives with serious or ongoing illness, lack of childcare and
issues involving their children. One BLT also said that the learners were subjected to
racism in their community, especially around issues of religion.
Key factors for success
Asked what are the key factors in helping learners achieve their goals, the BLTs
identified the following:
Creating and sustaining a welcoming and supportive learning environment
Patience – ‘you need to be very patient with them and explain things in ways
they can understand’
Ensuring they can have basic literacy skills such as holding a pen
Working alongside tutors who are skilled in working with low-level learners
Constant revision of previous learning to ensure consolidation of skills and
Rote practice of oral skills, especially with very low level learners to ensure they
have a solid foundation of key foundation skills such as greeting people and
introducing themselves or dealing with shopkeepers.
Varying teaching strategies according to the needs and skills of the learner
Having ready access to support in L1, especially for very low-level learners
13 The analogy used in some teaching observation studies is referred to as “keeping all the spinning plates
(on sticks) spinning” and making sure that none of the plates falls. In other words, the tutor sets all the
plates spinning by setting a task for individual learners to work on and then constantly goes round the
learners needing the most help.
25 | Page
Ensuring that learners with a common language can work together on tasks so
that they can pool their knowledge and skills to maximise vocabulary and
understanding of task requirements
Careful grouping of learners within the classroom to ensure that cultural values
are not threatened (e.g. grouping older men away from younger women in
some cultures)
Helping with phonemic awareness
Helping learners to practise new skills outside the classroom
Showing respect for learners in terms of their age (especially older men), religion
and culture
Providing pastoral care outside the classroom – ‘they trust me with their
problems from daily life’
Understanding that learners’ previous trauma can be played out in the classroom
in the form of constant headaches, difficulties in concentrating on tasks and
ongoing health issues
The need for ongoing professional development (even as an informal group) to
further develop their skills as BLTs
Field-trips to significant New Zealand sites such as Parliament, a local farm and
Te Papa.
While improvements in English language skills did not always come readily or quickly
with many of these learners, the BLTs reported that learners were keen to apply their
new skills in situations outside the classroom. In particular they reported achievements
such as being able to greet people, identifying themselves when needed, using ATMs,
talking to their children’s teachers, interpreting the origin and intention of written
correspondence and purchasing items in a variety of types of shops.
The BLTs consistently mentioned the importance of gaining confidence not only in
English language and literacy skills, but also the confidence to try these new skills
outside the classroom. The most valued act of independence is seen as being able to
visit health practitioners such as a GP or the hospital without having to have someone
(usually a child) accompanying them to interpret.
Using purpose-developed assessments, teachers capture learning gains including small
gains and gains that are not solely language based, such as the increase in confidence
exemplified above.
A review of the research literature has shown that there are few studies on refugees as
learners in New Zealand contexts. It also showed that there are concerns about the
quality of provision for them. This study has provided some insights into the nature and
extent of refugees’ learning needs as well as some elucidation of strategies to achieve
impact on their language and literacy skills with a longer aim of achieving successful
settlement in New Zealand.
The challenges teachers face in achieving impact with their learners primarily come from
two main sources: the social and pedagogical background of the learners and the
26 | Page
nature of the content being taught. In both these respects, ESOL literacy courses for
refugees present considerable challenges for the tutors involved.
While they do have diverse backgrounds and experiences, many refugee learners also
share much in common that constitutes a considerable challenge for their teachers,
especially in order to achieve the degree of impact that might be normally expected in a
classroom. As this study and the review of the related research literature has shown,
many refugees have encountered different types of trauma as a result of being exiled
from their home country, undertaking a long and complicated process of transit
through refugee camps and intermediary countries, before starting the gradual
adaptation to their new environment. It is difficult to assess the degree of impact these
experiences have on refugees generally and in relation to learning in particular, but it is
clear that these learners bring much to the classroom that is not always immediately
discernible that can impede and delay their rate of progress compared with other
Added to these psychological constraints, the great majority have had at best minimal
schooling experience and in most cases, none at all. As mature-age adults – with many
skills not well recognised in a New Zealand context - they lack the ‘learning blocks’
necessary to facilitate learning that most learners acquire as school-children and take
for granted as adult learners. Knowing how to behave appropriately in a classroom is
not inherent behaviour, so for many refugees ‘learning’ starts with skills as basic as
holding a pen, discerning between questions and answers and learning to work co-
operatively on set tasks with their classmates. In addition, they need to comprehend the
intrinsic nature of literacy itself – that written symbols represent sounds, words and
meaning. In order to do this, they may need to learn a new alphabet and different
directional conventions about how writing is presented on the page – from left to right,
from top to bottom, on top of the line and not the reverse.
Even with these basic learning skills underway, many refugee learners begin acquiring
their English and other literacy skills at the lowest level as they have no, or minimal,
previous English and they often lack reading and writing skills in their first language.
With all of these factors in play, progress is usually slow and painstaking, requiring the
tutor to carefully scaffold skills, building on the small steps previously achieved and
constantly revising in order to consolidate these initial gains. Making progress in
language and literacy skills is developed through a balance of contextual learning to
ensure personal relevance and motivation, but also the teaching of structural aspects of
language to ensure correct guidelines for English usage. Learners and teachers alike
summarise the priorities as patience, repetition, recycling.
As the learners develop their learning skills and fundamental literacy skills, they also
develop a set of skills, attitudes and knowledge about their new environment, enabling
them to undertake daily tasks in their community with increasing confidence. These
gradual developments in turn build self-confidence, which in turn helps develop the
motivation to further develop language and literacy skills. The self-confidence that
comes from achieving learning milestones is also augmented by affective elements
resulting from a supportive and stimulating learning environment. All these components
combine to provide a positive momentum, which gathers force as the different factors
mutually reinforce each other. This wheel of progress is extremely difficult to turn
initially, but can gain momentum with skilful exertion on the four components.
27 | Page
There are inevitably impediments to achieving this momentum. Psychological factors
resulting from the refugee experience provide resistance that is unseen, but
unquestionably present in the learners’ abilities to take on new skills in an unfamiliar
environment. External factors relating to managing family crises, coping with scant
resources and a lack of knowledge and familiarity about support mechanisms and
services can also impede what happens in the classroom. At worst, open discrimination
exacerbates a feeling of anomie in surroundings that are vastly different from those left
behind in the home countries. Within the classroom, crying babies, crowded conditions
and high and increasing roll numbers also counter what the teaching staff can achieve.
All those interviewed for this study were asked to identify factors or strategies they
thought helped refugee learners learn English and literacy skills in their context. Each of
the groups, tutors, bilingual tutors and learners, offered different assessments, but they
also shared many in common:
Teaching strategies and skills
o Constant revision of previous learning to ensure consolidation of skills
and knowledge
o Varying teaching strategies according to the needs and skills of the
o Having ready access to support in L1 with BLTs, especially for very low-
level learners
o Importance of everyone experiencing success by pitching teaching at the
right level for the learner
o ‘Seizing the moment’, being responsive in your teaching, looking for
opportunities to maximise learning with individuals
o Approaching tasks from different ways (e.g. using pictures, speech and
words) to ensure relevance; be prepared to re-phrase and re-present if
not successful
28 | Page
o The value of a cycle of modelling/acting/role-play/re-
cycle/reflection/practise in pairs
o Ensuring that learners with a common language can work together
Teacher qualities
o Patience!
o Understanding that learners’ previous trauma can be played out in the
o ‘Being human’ and de-mystifying the ‘teacher as expert’
Teaching content
o Ensuring that learners have all the requisite ‘learning blocks’ on which to
build higher levels of learning
o Ensuring relevance of teaching content by using ‘realia’, everyday life
tasks and issues
o Importance of teaching all four literacy skills (reading, writing, listening
and speaking)
o Importance of basic sight words, with some taught every day
o Phonics, especially for low-level learners
o Dictation with all levels
o Rote practice of oral skills, especially with very low level learners to ensure
a solid foundation of key skills.
Teacher development
o The need for ongoing professional development for teachers and BLTs
Learning environment
o Creating and sustaining a welcoming and supportive environment
o Careful grouping of learners within the classroom to ensure that cultural
values are respected and not threatened
Interpersonal relationships
o Importance of learners believing they can succeed (self-efficacy) through
praising achievement
o Showing respect for learners in terms of their age, religion and culture
o Understanding that learners’ previous trauma can be played out in the
classroom in the form of constant headaches, difficulties in concentrating
on tasks and ongoing health issues
Outside the classroom
o The need to practise new skills outside the classroom
o Field-trips to significant New Zealand sites
o Pastoral care for issues outside the classroom.
It is difficult to know the extent and specific impact of these strategies on refugees’
learning outcomes without substantial studies involving classroom observation and pre-
/post-assessment of their skills. In addition, the learning outcomes are part of a complex
process of resettlement.
Nonetheless, the strategies constitute a valuable pointer to what refugees value in the
classroom and what tutors and their bilingual assistant tutors rate as effective. To a
significant extent, the findings support current practice.
There is a great deal of existing knowledge about working with this group of learners:
in New Zealand, most of this expertise is in the heads of the practitioners. The lists
above summarise the most important elements of working with adult refugee learners
29 | Page
according to the experience of those who work with them. Existing literature (mostly
from overseas) supports the findings, and the findings support the aim of this project
(see page 3) - to provide a systematic documentation of these learners’ distinctive needs
as well as evidence of effective educational strategies for use in other ESOL- literacy and
other adult education programmes.
Although there has not been any specific assessment data included, interview feedback,
some observation and other research all point to the magnitude of the challenge to
achieve impact with these learners, usually requiring in excess of 500 hours of tuition to
achieve significant results.14 In particular, the very low level of language and literacy
skills coupled with refugee experience mean that teaching in these classes is probably
among the most challenging situations that tutors can undertake. In order to initiate
and gain momentum with their learners, tutors and BLTs need to ensure that they start
building skills from the very beginning, carefully consolidating these skills as well as
addressing important personal and social needs that are intertwined with these
processes. Ensuring that all these factors are addressed and overcome is rarely
straightforward, but when achieved can produce valuable, albeit modest, results which
are instrumental in assisting effective resettlement and participation in the new country.
14 Most of the learners in this study receive 320 hours of tuition per annum.
30 | Page
Adkins, M. A., Sample, B., & Birman, D. (1999). Mental health and the adult refugee: The role
of the ESL teacher. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education.
Altinkaya, J., & Omundsen, H. (1999). Birds in a gilded cage’: resettlement prospects for adult
refugees in New Zealand. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 13, 31-42.
Barton, D., & Pitt, K. (2003). Adult ESOL pedagogy: a review of research, an annotated
bibliography and recommendations for research. London: NRDC.
Benseman, J., Sutton, A., & Lander, J. (2005). Working in the light of evidence, as well as
commitment. A literature review of the best available evidence about effective adult
literacy, numeracy and language teaching. Auckland: The University of Auckland.
Bigelow, M., & Schwarz, R. (2010). Adult English language learners with limited literacy.
Washington DC: National Institute for Literacy.
Bihi, A. (1999). Cultural identity, adaptation and well-being of Somali refugees in New Zealand.
Victoria University, Wellington.
Blaker, J., & Hardman, S. (2001). Jumping the barriers: language learning with refugee groups
in New Zealand Paper presented at the I.A.C.D. conference, 2-6th April, Rotorua.
Burgoyne, U., & Hull, O. (2007). Classroom management strategies to address the needs of
Sudanese refugee learners. Adelaide: NCVER.
Condelli, L., Wrigley, H. & Yoon, K. (2009). 'What works' for adult literacy students of English
as a second language. In Reder, S. & Bynner, J. (Eds.), Tracking adult literacy and
numeracy skills. Findings from longitudinal research. New York: Routledge.
Florez, M., & Terrill, L. (2003). Working with literacy-level adult English language learners
Gray, A., & Elliott, S. (2001). Refugee resettlement research project. ‘Refugee Voices’. Literature
review Wellington: New Zealand Immigration Service.
Hamilton, R. and Anderson, A. (2000). Interventions for refugee children in New Zealand:
methods, models and best practice. Wellington, Ministry of Education.
Haywood, M. (2007). Applying post-critical approaches to refugee-centred education. MA
(Applied Language Studies), AUT University (unpublished)
Kaur, T. (2011). Personal observations of English learning in a refugee classroom. Wellington:
Ako Aotearoa.
Magro, K. (2006-2007). Overcoming the trauma of war: literacy challenges of adult learners.
Education Canada, 47 (Winter), 70-74.
McDermott, K. (2004). Review of adult refugee education programmes. Wellington: Ministry of
McMillan, N., & Gray, A. (2009). Long-term settlement of refugees: an annotated bibliography
of New Zealand and international literature. Wellington: Department of Labour.
New Zealand Immigration Service. (2004). Refugee voices: a journey towards re-settlement.
Wellington: Department of Labour.
Roach, K., & Roskvist, A. (2007). ESOL provision for adult immigrants and refugees in New
Zealand: Policy, practice and research. Prospect, 22(3), 44-63.
31 | Page
Roberts, C., Baynham, M., Shrubshall, P., Barton, D., Chopra, P., Cooke, M., et al. (2004).
English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) - case studies of provision, learners'
needs and resources. London: National Research and Development Centre.
Shadbolt, M. (1996). The longest journey: the resettlement of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees in
Auckland. Massey University, Palmerston North.
Shameem, N., McDermott, K., Martin-Blaker, J., & Carryer, J. (2002). Through language to
literacy. A report on the literacy gains of low-level and pre-literate adult ESOL learners in
literacy classes. Auckland: UNITEC, AUT and ESOL Home Tutor Service.
Sobrun-Maharaj, A., Tse, S., Hoque, E., & Rossen, F. (2008). Migrant and refugee youth in New
Zealand: a study of key informants. Wellington: Department of Labour.
Strategic Social Policy Group (2008). Diverse communities – exploring the migrant and refugee
experience in New Zealand. Wellington: Ministry of Social Development.
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Aotearoa New Zealand. (2003). Refugees
Learning English.
Tertiary Education Commission (2008). English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) Report
on national gaps and priorities. Wellington: Tertiary Education Commission.
Watts, N., White, C., & Trlin, A. (2001). English language provision for adult immigrants and/or
refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds in educational insititutions and private
training establishments in New Zealand. Palmerston North: Massey University.
White, C., Watts, N., & Trlin, A. (2001). Immigrant and refugee experience of ESOL provision in
New Zealand: realities and responsibilities. Palmerston North: Massey University.
Woodley, A. & Williams, L. (2012). Funded services to migrants and refugees in Auckland.
Auckland: Point Research.
32 | Page
Appendix A: Consent form
_______________ has explained to me that s/he is doing a research project about
(name of researcher)
S/he will ask me questions and record my answers.
I understand that
If I cannot understand this form someone will explain it to me in my own language.
I do not have to take part in this research.
I can stop taking part in this research at any time. This will not be a problem.
If I stop taking part in the research my information will not be used in the research report.
If a topic or question makes me uncomfortable I do not have to talk about it.
The information I tell the researcher will be stored safely and destroyed after one year
The researcher might ask for some of my work or a photo for the research report.
I do not have to give the researcher any of my work or a photo. This will not be a problem.
My name and any information that identifies me will not be written in the research report.
If I have any questions I can ask _____________________ (name of researcher)
Before the report is published the researcher will show me the part of the report that is
about me and I can read it if I wish.
The research report might be published and used outside our organisation. It might also be
used in conference presentations and put on our website.
If I am not happy about the research or do not understand it, I can ask
___________________ . This person is not part of the research team.
I understand this form. I agree to take part in this research.
Signed: ______________________________
Name: _______________________________
Date: ________________________________
Interpreter (if used) ___________________________
... Other work has looked at health care issues and refugees (Lawrence & Kearns, 2005). Because the majority of 'resettled' quota refugees arriving in New Zealand are from non-English-speaking countries (NESB), language-related issues have been consistently identified as significant obstacles to successful integration (Benseman, 2012;Watts, White, & Trlin, 2001, 2002. Many of the findings in the New Zealand context mirror the research around the world looking at refugee resettlement, particularly in regards to the language-related struggles (Simpson & Whiteside, 2012;Watkins, Razee, & Richters, 2012). ...
... Resettlement refugees, seeking a new life within a foreign country, are often required to move to places where the dominant language is not their own and thus become linguistically marked -an experience which can be particularly difficult to manage for adult populations. Moreover, these language-related issues are exasperated by the fact that New Zealand as an emerging super-diverse nation (Blommaert & Rampton, 2011) remains without an official language policy despite calls and obvious need (Benseman, 2012;Waite, 1992). ...
... Another important consideration for the successful settlement of refugees is the educational backgrounds of these individuals. A large number of refugees immigrate with limited (often severely limited) formal education (Benseman, 2012). In fact, Blaker and Hardman (2001) report that 80% of adult quota refugees in New Zealand (since 1995) have not completed a primary school education. ...
... AIPs are considered a hard-to-reach population because of their high mobility, accessibility through asylum reception centres, frequent restricted internet access and need for assistance when completing an online questionnaire due to language barriers, possible low levels of literacy or limited experience with online tools. 1,[5][6][7][8][9] To increase the response rate among this population and to allow persons with lower literacy levels to participate, we opted for face-to-face interviews to be conducted by trained interviewers. We chose to work with an offline version of the questionnaire -using tablets or laptops -which enabled us to conduct structured interviews on locations with limited internet connection. ...
... However, in the target population of the study there is a high degree of lower levels of literacy. [5][6][7][8] Working with a standardized online information letter alone could therefore lead to the identification of only a subpopulation of the target population. For this reason, an audio version of this information letter and a permission module were introduced to the website (cf. ...
Background: Conducting research in hard-to-reach populations such as applicants for international protection (AIPs) brings along a number of research challenges. This is especially true for sexual violence (SV) research. Methods: We developed a study design with the intent to reach AIPs in a randomized and anonymous manner including potential illiterate respondents as well, while avoiding as much bias as possible. However, this method was developed just before the entry into force of the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), upon which important new research challenges emerged. Results: This paper describes the original study design developed to estimate SV prevalence in AIPs in Belgium. We discuss the impact of the GDPR on the recruitment strategy applied to conduct a survey on SV in a randomly selected sample of AIPs, the adapted approach to conduct the study beyond GDPR and lessons learned for future research on sensitive topics in hard-to-reach populations such as AIPs. Conclusions: To achieve reliable prevalence numbers and provide high-quality data on SV in AIPs while respecting the GDPR regulations, studies will require an approach that has become significantly more time consuming and resource-intensive to implement.
... However, as Berlant (2011) points out, there is an element of 'cruel optimism' in these kinds of aspirations; in this case, in the process that refugees undergo as they transition from war, to illegal alienage, to the denial of educational opportunity in the U.S. In their newly resettled contexts, Samah and Nadia's aspirations met a resettlement landscape prioritizing immediate self-sufficiency over long-term investment in education and language learning. While learners new to English need a minimum of 18 months to 2 years to gain Elementary English proficiency (Benseman, 2012), the most consistent language programs available to refugees are focused on employment, and last only 60 to 90 days. ...
... Scholars have also argued that ESL teachers of adult language learners need to be attuned to students' trauma. Recommendations for educators who work with refugees include, but are not limited to, learning to recognize how trauma presents in the classroom (Gordon, 2011); envisioning the classroom as a space to bridge the gap between education and therapy (Horsman, 2004), and developing relationships with individuals and organizations that work with refugees (Benseman, 2012). While these are helpful recommendations, the assumption undergirding this scholarship is that students who experience trauma and stress not only attend but persist in their adult literacy classes. ...
Drawing from a three year ethnographic study with Iraqi refugees who had recently resettled to the U.S., this chapter examines how refugees’ pre-resettlement lives shape their educational aspirations, while their (lack of) access to education in the U.S. shapes their understandings and embodiments of citizenship. Focusing on the lives of Samah, a high school graduate who hoped to pursue college education, and Nadia, a mother who aspired to learn English upon arrival to the U.S., I argue that refugees’ encounters with public schools and adult literacy programs are critical to their ability to become full members of their new communities. Samah and Nadia experience various barriers to accessing adult education and language learning due to increasing market fundamentalist attacks on state institutions that are critical for refugees. Staging interventions to improve the lives of refugees involves bucking current resettlement trends that re-traumatize refugees and dispossess them of the ability to aspire to and realize better futures. Rather than following through with its current course of action, which has prioritized self-sufficiency; ever-decreasing case management periods; and the lack of bilingual case workers, we need to reinvest in refugee resettlement. Otherwise, refugees will continue to be dispossessed, again, of their rights.
... However, as Berlant (2011) points out, there is an element of 'cruel optimism' in these kinds of aspirations; in this case, in the process that refugees undergo as they transition from war, to illegal alienage, to the denial of educational opportunity in the U.S. In their newly resettled contexts, Samah and Nadia's aspirations met a resettlement landscape prioritizing immediate self-sufficiency over long-term investment in education and language learning. While learners new to English need a minimum of 18 months to 2 years to gain Elementary English proficiency (Benseman, 2012), the most consistent language programs available to refugees are focused on employment, and last only 60-90 days. ...
... Scholars have also argued that ESL teachers of adult language learners need to be attuned to students' trauma. Recommendations for educators who work with refugees include, but are not limited to, learning to recognize how trauma presents in the classroom (Gordon, 2011); envisioning the classroom as a space to bridge the gap between education and therapy (Horsman, 2004); and developing with individuals and organizations that work with refugees (Benseman, 2012). While these are helpful recommendations, the assumption undergirding this scholarship is that students who experience trauma and stress not only attend but persist in their adult literacy classes. ...
Full-text available
This chapter explores how a refugee support organization in the Midwestern United States supports the educational experiences of refugee-background learners from various countries in Africa and Asia. Researchers spent over a year as both observers and volunteers in a refugee support organization that directly interacted with students who were refugees. The study found that because refugee support organizations interacted directly with refugee families, parents, and students, they were well equipped to identify struggles students faced and assisted them in resolving those issues. The scholarship on the education of children who are refugees is centered on examining how school climate, pedagogy, and school resources can enhance the experiences of these refugees. There are missed opportunities with this focus because it overlooks how community-based organizations can and are already helping to improve the educational opportunities of children who are refugees. In this chapter we argue that schools, working collaboratively with community-based organizations, can create safe learning spaces for refugee-background students that improve their language learning and educational experiences.
... Amongst the SLA research done in Aotearoa New Zealand about literacy development is work done on understanding how members of the refugee background communities have worked to assist early literacy development. Research done (Benseman, 2014;Shamem et al., 2002;Watts et al., 2001a, b) has found that provision of language support by the refugee-background community is important and that bilingual language assistants are integral to learners' language development alongside English speaking classroom teachers. Watt's et al. (2001a, b) in a second piece of research focused on learner experience of ESOL provision in the initial period of settlement. ...
... More recently Benseman (2014) conducted research with the New Zealand government-funded, community-based organisation called English Language Partners which is contracted to provide English language support to migrant and refugee background learners. This included learners, teachers and bi-lingual assistant tutors and explored how the assistants, or Bilingual Tutors understood their role. ...
New Zealand has expanded its refugee resettlement programme. Government policy changes, announced in 2018, meant the refugee quota which has been 750 for about 30 years would increase to 1500 people (Immigration New Zealand, Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, New Zealand immigration. Immigration Factsheets: Refugees and Asylum Seekers, 2018). This will present settlement and language support challenges and opportunities. Earlier experience seems to point the way to some successful strategies.
... Typically, refugees have limited access to language instruction (Brunarska and Weinar, 2013;Valenta and Berg, 2010). When they do get access to language classes in their host countries, they might encounter multiple obstacles, such as lack of child care while they attend classes, low or no income to pay course fees, placement in a relatively rural or isolated area of the host country with few chances to practise the language, and the acculturative stress of simultaneously learning to navigate the society into which they have moved (Benseman, 2012). In essence, lacking language and literacy skills constitutes a cross-cutting key obstacle for refugees of all ages, which impacts success not only in school but also in other spheres of their daily lives. ...
Full-text available
This report analyses how mobile learning projects and practices are addressing: individual challenges that can negatively impact refugees’ learning opportunities as well as their lives beyond the learning environment; Education system challenges that transcend individual education levels and domains and stem from issues in the education system more broadly; and challenges related to educational levels that pertain to the different levels and types of education.
... Lack of literacy and language courses, low and inappropriate skills, without validation and recognition competencies, heterogeneous groups are mentioned as crucial barriers (Kaur, 2011;UN-ESCO, 2019). Except for them, some researchers also mention lack of childcare, family responsibilities, low income, shift work, affordability, housing problems, lack of information and awareness, gender barriers, concentration problems, selfperception, low self-esteem and expectations, low motivation, interest and confidence, distrust, tiredness (Altinkaya & Omundsen, 1999;Banulescu-Bogdan, 2020;Benseman, 2014;Watts, White & Trlin, 2001). In addition, Hayward (2007) refers to the psychological or physical trauma that many refugee learners have in their new countries. ...
Full-text available
Contemporary societies are called to face complex challenges, deriving from globalization, the rapid technological evolutions, the intense demographic changes, and the social exclusion. These challenges are part of UNESCO's global mandate, as reflected in the Education 2030 Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, and have more impact on migrations and refugees. UNESCO's Global Report on Adult Learning and Education comes to play a crucial role in achieving the fourth goal of the Agenda, that of education and lifelong education. The present research, through the qualitative analysis of the text of UNESCO (GRALE 4, 2019), aims at pointing out the basic dimensions of adult refugees' education and how it can be applied. Through the analysis of the text certain thematic networks emerge, related with the participation percentages of adult refugees' participation, mapping out of policies, whose particular characteristic is the investment in lifelong learning, transmission of good practices and their evaluation.
... La bibliografía suele ser también unánime a la hora de señalar que los refugiados pueden presentar lo que se conoce con el término de estrés postraumático (Kleinmann, 1984;Corvo y Peterson, 2005;Carlsson, Mortensen y Kastrup, 2006;Hayward, 2007;Benseman, 2012). A él cabría añadir el llamado Síndrome de Ulises (Achotegui, 2000). ...
Este trabajo plantea un marco de referencia y posibles perspectivas para la enseñanza-aprendizaje de español como segunda lengua (L2)/lengua extranjera (LE) centrado en la figura social del refugiado. Desde el punto de vista lingüístico, este grupo requiere de la exigencia urgente de aprender el idioma de la sociedad de acogida para poder incorporarse a dicha sociedad. Sin embargo, reconocida esta necesidad, a continuación, surge la cuestión contigua acerca de si ello puede resolverse mediante metodologías convencionales o si, por el contrario, abre un campo nuevo de especificidad. Para ello, tratamos de resolver esta cuestión, procurando atender a todos los posibles ejes condicionantes de esta problemática y, en consecuencia, establecer un marco de referencias que sea de utilidad para proceder a perseverar por esa dirección en el futuro.
From November 2015 to October 2020, Canada had welcomed 44,620 Syrian refugees to more than 350 communities across the country. In 2019, it further surpassed the United States and Australia in the number of refugees settled. Lacking the necessary language skills for living and working in a new country is one of the most critical barriers refugees face. This paper aims to inform language-teaching professionals about pertinent linguistic and nonlinguistic issues as well as pedagogical implications associated with supporting adult Syrian refugee learners, drawing both on the literature more broadly and on the author’s research in the Canadian context.
Increasingly, urban and rural centers in Canada are receiving immigrants and refugees from countries affected by war. While it is important not to pathologize the effects that war and other catastrophes may have on individuals, it is also vital not to underestimate their impact on the ability of individuals to adjust to life in a new society. The challenges of resettlement cannot be separated from literacy and language development. Literacy includes numeracy, problem solving, and the ability to read, write, and speak in English, of course. But it also involves emotional and social literacies such as motivation, interpersonal effectiveness, critical thinking, and cultural awareness. In the author's own qualitative study of literacy learning among adults, she focused on the experiences and challenges of eight adult learners from countries affected by war. Through in-depth interviews, biographies, and narrative inquiries, this study explored adult learners' experiences in their homelands, their personal challenges, and their educational experiences since arriving in Canada. She also interviewed ten literacy educators who work with youth and adults from these countries and asked them to write about their experiences. The ESL teachers addressed the new challenges they face when working with adult refugee students. (Contains 17 notes.)
"Classroom Management Strategies to Address the Needs of Sudanese Refugee Learners" (ED499673) examined the extent to which English language, literacy and numeracy teachers used classroom management strategies to meet the needs of adult Sudanese refugee learners. The researchers found that while teachers met the needs of these learners insofar as they coincided with those of other refugee groups, the highly oral language culture of these learners appeared not to have been accounted for in teaching strategies. This document supports the research report with advice to teachers categorized by six factors: (1) Community engagement and ownership; (2) Learners' identities, cultures, knowledge and values; (3) Flexibility in course design, content and delivery; (4) Quality staff and committed advocacy; (5) Learner support services; and (6) True partnerships which help to achieve sustainable funding. Includes an annotated list of resources for teachers. (Contains 4 tables.) [This work was funded by the Australian Department of Education, Science and Training.]
Applying post-critical approaches to refugee-centred education. MA (Applied Language Studies
  • M Haywood
Haywood, M. (2007). Applying post-critical approaches to refugee-centred education. MA (Applied Language Studies), AUT University (unpublished)
Interventions for refugee children in New Zealand: methods, models and best practice. Wellington, Ministry of Education
  • R Hamilton
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Hamilton, R. and Anderson, A. (2000). Interventions for refugee children in New Zealand: methods, models and best practice. Wellington, Ministry of Education.
Mental health and the adult refugee: The role of the ESL teacher
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Adkins, M. A., Sample, B., & Birman, D. (1999). Mental health and the adult refugee: The role of the ESL teacher. Washington, DC: National Center for ESL Literacy Education.