Youth-specific English course achieving success
Using sport, camps and social activities to teach English to young refugees and migrants is achieving considerable success while also delivering cultural perspectives on Australia, according to new research.
An innovative new Youth Program being delivered by settlement agency AMES under the federally-funded Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) has been successful in keeping young people attending classes, supporting their continuing education and helping them get jobs.
A research paper commissioned by AMES into the program’s efficacy found that it “improved the health and wellbeing of young newly arrived migrants and refugees” and “increased social inclusion opportunities, thus enhancing settlement in Australian society”.
Researcher Jan McFeeter said the activities the students are involved in during the Youth Program provide contexts for learning English.
“The program provides opportunities for social interaction and opportunities to develop employability skills as well as opportunities for language acquisition,” she said.
The research also found that providing an ‘immersive’ approach to English tuition increased opportunities for social inclusion and economic participation as well as improved health and wellbeing.
It said a specialist youth program helped engage and motivate young people.
The report recommended additional investment in the AMEP to facilitate consistent and sustainable provision of specialist program for young migrants and refugees.
In 2012–13, the $264 million AMEP program was delivered at 274 locations across Australia to 59,754 clients from 188 countries.
Fourteen per cent – or almost 9,000 – of the students were aged 16 to 25.
Former AMES Youth Program student Zulfiqar Ali has secured his dream job and he attributes his success to the program.
Zulfiqar, 26, a refugee from Pakistan, is working as a welder at AIS Maintenance Services in Moorabbin. He is also studying welding engineering at Dandenong TAFE.
“The Youth Program was very good for me. It improved my English and, just as importantly, my confidence,” said Zulfiqar who came to Australia by boat in 2011.
“Confidence is important because it gives you a better chance to succeed and the Youth Program is very good at building confidence,” he said.
“Through the program, not only did I improve my English but I also learned about the city and places around Melbourne. I also learned about the importance of things like environmental protection.
“Two-and-a-half years ago I arrived on Christmas Island with about three per cent English. Now look at me!”
Zulfiqar said he said he loved working as a welder. “It is a very physical and technical job but it’s a very good job,” he said
Zulfiqar’s employer Russell Moore said he was delighted with his new worker. “Zulf is a great employee. He’s very enthusiastic and keen to learn,” Mr Moore.
Ms McFeeter said the Youth Program attempted to make up for what new arrivals had missed out on through their education journey.
“For kids from refugee backgrounds, even if they’ve been to school before in refugee camps may not have had the experiences you would expect kids to have had just by dent of going to school in Australia,” she said.
“Kids growing up in Australia probably have had exposure to work experience; and they probably have had the opportunity to play sport and to be in the class play or musical.
“They have probably been on camps, they have friendship groups and they probably have joined clubs.
“If you’ve gone to school in Australia, you have an idea about the post-school system in Australia. You probably know what TAFE is and how to access it; you probably know something about what is required to get into university.
“But if you have come from a refugee camp, you might not know any of that.
“The program gives newly arrived people access to some of these opportunities and tries to match the opportunities Australian kids receive to put them in a better position.
“Also, a lot of kids would have had part time jobs while they’re still at school.
“Refugee kids and their families often don’t have the contacts to get part-time jobs, so the program helps them with that,” she said.
Ms McFeeter said that another successful feature of the program was that young people enjoyed being with people of their own age.
“We find they are more relaxed and more open and they respond well to very active learning – and to learning by doing.
“When they are in classes with older people we find that young people are less engaged; they’re much quieter.
“Also, with youth classes we can target tuition to what young people need; for example education pathways or adolescent health services.
“And because the classes are fun we have high retention rates. The students make good connections and they are motivated to come,” she said.