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New guidance for teaching refugees

A new paper from Oxford University Press offers information and guidance for language teachers who may be struggling to teach refugees.

Worldwide, 103 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Refugees can face many challenges in a new country, with host country language proficiency being a key factor.

As a result, teachers are facing their own challenges in accommodating refugees. Varying levels of language skills, random arrival times throughout the academic year, along with complex social and psychological needs can make education hard for both teacher and learner.

Outlined in the report, author Professor Hayo Reinders recommends a systematic and integrated support plan for students. The plan should set out clear goals using a needs analysis, such as:

  • Are they likely to be resettled soon?
  • What is the learners’ literacy level in L1?
  • What is their proficiency in L2?
  • What continuing language support can they access outside of school?
  • Are there other learners or teachers in the school who may be able to provide support?
  • Do they have particular psychological needs and are these being met?

Building upon these goals, all stakeholders should know what they are and who is responsible for realising them.

Teachers should also receive professional development through the use of courses, training or tailored resources. However, it is also important to provide support for teachers’ mental wellbeing, including stressors such as responding to trauma and mental health issues, as well as possible conflict resolution. ‘At the very least, a safe space should be provided for staff to share their experiences,’ says Reinders.

One teacher featured in the report, Laura Baecher, has said teaching refugees ‘opened my eyes to their sufferings’:

‘The stories exhausted me, and the trauma that my students shared often provoked strong reactions in me – a desire to solve their problems, to find help for them and to, generally, turn everything upside down until I knew they were okay.

‘Now in a role supporting other teachers, I see similar patterns in every new teacher – the fear, sense of inadequacy, and emotional exhaustion. My response to this is to become the repository of their worries and the person they can send students to when they need to talk. I have found that the most important way to support the teachers is by letting them know that the problem is not theirs, that it has been assessed and referred to professionals if needed and that not all problems are urgent.’

‘Supporting refugees: a primer for language teachers’ can be accessed here.

Image courtesy of Arthur Krijgsman
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