IATEFL 2018 Materials Writing SIG Session 4

Writing for language education in emergencies and development

– Psyche Kennett.

Psyche started by sharing some staggering statistics and issues to consider:

It’s a big and difficult world out there. 66 million forcibly displaced people. 10 million are stateless, they have no third country to go to, no freedom of movement, no access to education or health care. 20 displaced people per minute. Of the 65 million displaced, 1/3 are refugees in camps/settlements and half of that 1/3 are under 18. Imagine you are a Syrian 17 year old, you are about to do your school leaving exam, and you are displaced, now you are in Turkey and you have to take it in Turkish. Imagine you are a Burundi teacher displaced in Rwanda. Rwanda has the most open education context for refugees but that would require switching to KinRwanda and English as the medium of instruction.

The rest of the talk addressed the issues which are raised by the issues touched on above.

How do we stop a generation of youth becoming the lost generation?

Language for resilience – harnessing the power of literay in additional languages so that forcibly displaced people can anticipate, withstand, recover and transform from shocks and crises.

By strengthening:

  • home language early education and adult literacy for social identity: being illiterate in L1 makes it very hard to learn another language. If you lose the identity of your home language and over-adopt the language of the place you move to, and then are rejected by that place (bad schooling etc), you have a huge problem. These people have alientation through loss of identity, no home identity and not accepted into the new society. This can lead to radicalisation.
  • strengthening second/other languages for access to education and employment
  • using participatory methodology for core skills and good governance. This is at the core of everything, that’s where the social inclusion/critical thinking skills will come from. ELT uses learner-centred techniques far better than many other subjects, this needs to be drawn on.
  • language programmes for providing safe spaces and addressing trauma – whether the physical space where the refugee is learning or the topics that are discussed e.g. avoiding talking about home and family.
  • institutional capacity for formal and informal language teacher education – are there enough teachers? do they have inclusive participatory methodology to help refugee kids?

Education in emergencies is usually catch-up education, condensing years of education into catch-up courses. This doesn’t work for language, you can’t teach it any faster than you already teach it. Education in development is national curriculum reform, writing textbooks for grade 5-9 etc It’s not an emergency situation, it’s a developing country situation. Working in camps in emergency situations gives you more flexibility than improving education in a school system, where you have to work with other stakeholders. In an informal situation in the camps, you have a wide open space. The problem is, parents want their kids to have the formal thing. Although there is a psychological attachment to the conventional idea (e.g. school leaving cert in a new language), what the kids need is other sorts of language and core skills.

The LFR materials development strategy does the following:

Tries to give refugees a sense of normality, if you give refugees a normal off the peg course book, that’s like saying “you are normal, you can do this”: uses an expediency approach. Also uses ‘methodology first’ materials for a process-based approach. E.g. Scaramaga camp in Athens, there are Afghans, Syrians and Yasidi Christians.  Syrians are on top, going on to a third country, Afghans are at the bottom as not going anywhere and there’s also a  third group who exclude themselves due to religious differences, so inclusive methodology is needed to help people from different backgrounds to participate together. Uses mother tongue materials in the classroom, and a community language approach, where the teacher works with the group to reformulate what is being said. Language identity is part of the content of the materials for a pluralinguistic approach. Core skills, peace education and citizenship materials for a rights-based approach.

Consensus orientation is an important skill. It means giving up you hold dearly and the other side giving up something they hold dearly so that they can move forward together. It should be taught on a daily basis. E.g. by doing a pyramid discussion. We did an example of this, starting by writing down three things that have struck you so far as important to think about in this context. (Then we did the pyramid discussion thing). If the list is a low stakes list, then consensus orientation is easier to build in, it’s easier to give things up. In a lot of contexts, women would give up ideas more easily as socially conditioned to do so. Through jigsaw reading, onion/mingling groups, pyramid groups, you are teaching, through the activity, a kind of socialisation, participatory skills. One of the root causes of conflicts is education – if you rote learn everything in education, you will follow orders and respect authority, not dissent, not change things. Critical thinking for refugee learners is important as it gives them the human right to analyse, to dissent, and also gives them a new skill they need to survive in a new world. For materials writers, if we use Bloom’s Taxonomy, we are teaching critical thinking – the sub-skills of critical thinking. It shouldn’t be a separate subject, but should be a fundamental core skill through having different tasks in the material that we write. Recall – concept checking; Process – thinking task, cognitive task, work through what you’ve understood; Produce – freer task, having analysed and synthesised and evaluated something you can produce something new. If you analyse a lot of textbooks in developing countries e.g. Burundi, Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, they often don’t go further than the remember/recall. Synopsis is a high level task, as you have to eliminate things and prioritise things yourself, make those decisions.

No one is writing anything for these contexts. Education in emergencies, you are relying on a big donor. They are reluctant to do English. UNICEF/UNHR are beginning to see that language is a massive excluding factor, not only race/geography/special needs etc There is a lot of money out there but it’s hard to access it. You can’t have global refugee textbooks. Biggest need is A1-A2 in middle Eastern contexts and A0 in sub-saharan contexts. As well as the language, non violence communication, equity and equality, accountability, transparency etc need to be written in, overlaid into the materials, as well as functional survival literacy skills for survival in the new place. E.g. register for housing, go to the bank etc. The proposal has to go to the big donors. They are just cottoning onto the need. For a framework rather than material.

You need to integrate citizenship skills, survival skills and language skills. For Greece, Turkey, Syria, Germany, there is a space for something they could all use, that kind of book. The British Council need to bring the publisher and the donor together like a broker.

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