Migrant and refugee women, in particular, can find it difficult to attend classes if they are at home caring for pre-school children. Some have never been to school and therefore have no basic literacy in their own language, making it extremely difficult to learn a new language in a formal educational setting.
Even those people who qualify for and complete government English classes may still require additional help and more opportunities to practice.
In the City of Logan, a group of 13 Burmese women needed support to improve their English, however they didn’t want to do any more formal learning.
Most of the women had two or three children and they felt comfortable in the school-based hub environment. They told the hub leader they wanted to learn practical sewing skills.
Once they were sewing, the hub leader, who was also a trained English teacher, started an informal language group.
The women started to enjoy this and found that their confidence with English was improving. They were happy to come in early and extend the time they had to learn English.
They started the day with informal English practice and then continued practicing their new language skills during sewing class.
The classes were not funded. The hub leader facilitated the English classes and students and volunteers provided free child care.
At Westmead Public School Hub, English classes are organised for about 12–16 parents and grandparents of children attending the school.
The classes are led by volunteers led and provide interactive and practical activities with lots of small group and one-on-one activities. They give participants lots of time to practice their English, seek clarification and increase their confidence to speak to and in front of other people. People get help with their pronunciation and understanding Australian accents.
The volunteers are self-sufficient and highly organised. They run the activities with support from the hub leader, who books rooms and organises equipment.
The classes are not funded and there is no child care provided.
A similar model runs in Victoria, with the local AMEP provider (AMES) supplying a volunteer tutor, and the hub leader and parents sharing child minding duties.
A number of hubs in the City of Hume run a 20-week Mother Child English Program in partnership with a registered training provider (RTO).
The curriculum focuses on English within an early childhood development context. The program allows mothers to come in and settle their children into child care in a nearby room, while they have formal English classes that focus on practical, everyday English about child development, pre-school learning, raising healthy children and raising children in a multicultural society. The children take part in fun child care that is pre-accredited.
After the formal session, the children and parents come together in a playgroup, which has play activities themed to the classes, giving parents the chance to practice what they have learned.
The model requires a partnership with an RTO and is suitable for people with various levels of English proficiency. It is funded with AMEP funds as well as funds from the Foundation Skills stream. Funding to cover child care has been sourced from the philanthropic sector.
One of the challenges of running English classes in community hubs is providing child minding for pre-school children so their parents can attend the lessons.
Deborah from Dandenong South Primary School Hub explains how they’ve addressed this issue at her hub:
“We’ve been running a highly successful English language class for mums with bubs for over a year. The women appreciate the ability to have their children looked after during the session, as most of the other English classes available don’t have any ability for children to attend.
Although the intention was for us to provide a ‘child free’ English language class for the women, some of the children had significant difficulty separating from their mothers. A group of four or five children who were very unsettled caused other children in the group to also become distressed. As the mothers could hear them crying, they too were very uncomfortable and were not able to concentrate.
Some women ended up taking their children into the classes with them, but this created a very noisy learning environment. We decided to trial having one woman per week sit out of classes to assist with child care. This did offer some assistance to our child-care assistant, but children were still distressed.
We then decided to split the class into two groups. In one room, we now have the women whose children are happy to separate from their mothers. These women can quietly concentrate on their learning tasks. In the second room, we provide child care and we also have the women whose children will not separate from their mothers. This is a noisier room, however all of the women in the room have a child. The children are no longer crying and are happy to engage in play activities around the room. The tutor moves between the two rooms, which are next door to each other, assisting all the women.
All the children are more settled and all the women are happy!
My advice to others is to work through solutions with the group. Sometimes what you think will work won’t and what you think won’t work, will. It’s about being flexible and working with your families to best suit their needs.”