Test drive for policy on asylum-seekers

14th March 2003 at 00:00
ASYLUM-SEEKING students should be given a completely different kind of education, according to a leading expert.

Rhona Hodgart, a senior lecturer in Anniesland College, told a conference last week on "empowering asylum-seekers" hosted by Glasgow City Council, that the traditional separation of vocational and English language classes was no longer tenable.

Ms Hodgart, who works in the college's department of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), said her colleagues would have to work alongside subject specialists to ensure maximum support for asylum-seekers.

Annies-land plans to try out this approach in motor vehicle mechanics.

The idea is that the ESOL teacher would find out from the specialist vocational departments what the language requirements are for assessments to be completed. "It may be that some are very theoretical. Or it may be that an individual's current level of English prevents her or him from gaining that particular assessment, but he or she could still be given the credit for what can be done practically and a route to follow to get them to completion."

Ms Hodgart said the current approach largely consists of general English teaching in large classes with limited access for students to a broad range of courses. "We want to break the general English pit that people fall into and give them clear pointers of how to reach their goal which, as always, is a job," she said.

Australian research shows that full-time students (defined as receiving 450 guided learning hours a year) would need almost four years to move on from speaking no English to the point where they could take further study or get a job. Studying for four hours a week would take more than 14 years.

But Ms Hodgart warned: "It is very easy to call something vocational English, a bit of vocational-related vocabulary thrown in but with the student still pretty much segregated from mainstream and taught in discrete groups. Language, real language, is learnt outside the classroom."

Anniesland's experience has forced the college to take a more integrationist approach. "English language is English language, with a blurring of old distinctions between English as a second language and English as a foreign language," Ms Hodgart states.

"Everyone needs English to be able to function effectively in today's global economy. I don't see much difference between a Spanish student who needs good English to get a better job in Spain or go to further study here, and a Palestinian or Afghan student who needs good English to find a job or go on to further study here."

Glasgow has an estimated 6,000 asylum-seekers and an analysis by Anniesland College of 153 students shows that just over 40 per cent had a higher education qualification.

The city wants to enlist asylum-seekers to meet skills gaps. "Scotland needs new Scots," Archie Graham, its spokesperson on asylum affairs, said.

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