Research and Reflective Practice in the Pre-Literate ESL Classroom: New Challenges in Migrant Education

Research and Reflective Practice in the Pre-Literate ESL Classroom: New Challenges in Migrant Education

Vineetha Hewagodage (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 29
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2901-0.ch012

Abstract

This chapter reports on findings of a qualitative study conducted with diverse cultural and linguistic background adult students engaged in learning English through an adult migrant English language program offered in a refugee welcome zone in a rural region of Australia. Twenty students whose first language was not English were observed in the language learning environment and participated in semi-structured interviews. The research explored how English language learning can be best supported for humanitarian refugees with little or no literacy in their first language to become acculturated and socially integrated into Australian society. It was found that the typical ‘English only approach' that is commonly used in the Adult Migrant English Language Program (AMEP) to teach literacy and develop proficiency in the English language is called into question when applied to learners with limited or no print literacy skills in their first language. It was concluded that these learners, who are commonly referred to in the literature as LESLLA (Low Educated Second Language Acquisition and Literacy for Adults), are faced with a number of social exclusionary practices during their integration process. Recommendations are made on how these issues might be addressed.
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Introduction

Many refugees and humanitarian entrants to host countries are typically literate in their first language and may also be highly educated (Boese, van Kooy, & Bowman, 2018; United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation [UNESCO], 2019;:Hewagodage, 2015). However, some subgroups of this population arrive in their host countries rich in linguistic and cultural capital (Harvey & Mallman, 2019) but have no print literacy skills in their first language and may not have experienced formal education either (Farrelly, 2017). As a host country and recognized multicultural society (Creese & Blackledge, 2010; Wright & Clibborn, 2017) in keeping with global trends and demands Australia has increased its refugee intake from cultures that have oral rather than written traditions, where refugees have had little or no literacy education, or whose years in refugee camps has deprived them of schooling/education (Hatoss, 2013). These groups include people from South Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar and Nepal (Scanlon Foundation, 2019, p. 26). Upon arrival in Australia they are supported to acquire the English language through being referred to the Adult Migrant English Language Program (AMEP) where tuition is available over a limited time (the number of hours depending on their immigrant status) (Hewagodage, 2015). The AMEP provides a basic 510 hours of free tuition for migrants and refugee humanitarian entrants (RHEs), which includes this increasing number of English language learners who have no literacy skills in their first language. Thus, the AMEP is faced with providing for this relatively new cohort where foundation English language and settlement skills are vital to enable them to participate socially and economically in Australian society (Lenette, Baker, & Hirsch, 2019).

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