Spreading the word: Swansea University teaches refugees in Oxfam project

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A three year Big Lottery funded project involving the English language teacher training of 32 female asylum seekers and refugees in Swansea, Newport and Cardiff has reached successful completion.

Nectar GunaseelanThe English language training is one element of the wider Oxfam Cymru Sanctuary in Wales project and began in 2012 in conjunction with Swansea University’s English Language Training Service (ELTS). 

The aim of the scheme was to provide English language training to female asylum seekers and refugees so that they could “give back” to their communities and fellow asylum seekers by dedicating time to help others improve their English language skills.

Peter Neville, Senior Tutor at ELTS said: “The majority of women who participated in this programme received an internationally recognised teaching award – the Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT).” 

“The newly qualified tutors have been able to help their peers but have also greatly enhanced their own language and teaching skills which have inspired some to consider further training in education.”

Rob Anderson and Jen Weltifrom Swansea University who together have administered and taught the programme over the last two years added: “It is remarkable how quickly the trainees take on board the requirements of being successful teachers, and within a few weeks they become highly competent teachers of English to classes of their peers”.

Many of the women selected for the programme - from a variety of countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Nigeria – were already well qualified and educated but unable to work in the UK, and few had teaching experience.  Many had young children so the programme was built around childcare provision. 

Nectar Gunaseelan (pictured), originally from Sri Lanka is one of the project participants who gained a TKT award on completion of the course.  She said: “I started at the Sanctuary in Wales project in Newport in 2012. I met multinational people, and when I spoke to them I understood they were facing problems in their daily life because they didn’t have much English. I decided to help these people with the best of my knowledge.

“When the English teacher training course started, Sarah Croft from the Newport Sanctuary Project asked me if I wished to follow the course at Cardiff. I wanted to, but was hesitant because at the time my son had only just turned one.

“But Sarah gave me a lot of encouragement. Through the project they arranged crèche facilities and transport for me. There was a really good atmosphere at the course venue and the facilitators shared their teaching skills and resources with us.

Every week I could practise my teaching skills with my colleagues. After I finished the ten day course, I sat the Teaching knowledge Test (TKT), and passed.

I have now been teaching English at a basic level at the Newport Sanctuary project since 2013. I would like to say thank you to Oxfam for this project, and everyone who has helped me along the way." 

Victoria Goodban, Sanctuary in Wales Project Co-ordinator said: “Each woman that has taken up this training opportunity has gained something valuable from the experience, and for some it has been the start of a whole new journey into teaching. This is something we could never have predicted at the outset.

“Some teachers have now completed their PGCEs! As sanctuary seekers themselves, the teachers know better than most how important it is for those seeking safety to learn the language, and they have given hundreds of hours of their time to providing women in their communities with English classes on an entirely voluntary basis. Thank you to everyone who has taken part in the project. It has been an inspiring experience.”