Learning can be about survival as well as aspiration or certificates. DLA teams are currently working in refugee camps in Bangladesh and Ethiopia. We are setting up emergency language solutions for children and teachers when English suddenly becomes essential.
Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the UNHCR, working through the British Council, have got DLA assigned to the problem of English in refugee schools. Addis Ababa and UNHCR agreed in 2018 on a proactive and positive stance to the million refugees who have arrived on Ethiopian soil from Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. This allows formal schooling under Ministry control for hundreds of thousands of children. But teaching staff in refugee camps schools face huge challenges around numbers and capacity. The staff available to work in camps are predominantly untrained volunteers with no experience or qualifications in teaching. The Ethiopian system requires teaching in English from Grade 6, but in the camps the refugee staff newly under Ministry supervision speak very little English.
Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh from Myanmar number around one million. The commitment from UNICEF and Save The Children to provide schools in the camps has so far been about re-establishing safe spaces for children after trauma and persecution. Now the partners are committed to launching a formal education programme and DLA has been instructed to deliver the English Language component on behalf of the British Council. It’s about writing the syllabus and resources, and training the staff in schools to deliver it. And it’s about speed: lessons start on 1st April 2019.
Learning designs for these special situations need to address several extreme challenges. These can include multi-age overcrowded classes, teachers with low capacity, and complex linguistic environments. The teaching specifically of English language is crucial in both Ethiopian and Bangladeshi refugee camps. In both situations, children need to acquire sufficient English in Primary cycle to switch to English language medium of instruction around age 10-12. When their teachers have poor or non-existent English, this is especially difficult.
DLA’s solutions will include teacher training videos to use on mobile phones, syllabus designs that leverage additional learning beyond the classrooms, and very high speed content creation processes to allow scale and urgency.
We’ll be updating regularly from this front line of emergency learning, and our sessions at IATEFL Liverpool (4th April 2019) will report on teaching English when it’s a matter of survival.