Revising ESOL: Conclusions and Recommendations

5 October 2012
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As I have shown, many people are successful at learning English and after their ESOL course they find a job or decide to continue their education. On the other hand, we recognize that some students never achieve a working level of English. Because of the difficulties mentioned in the previous blogs, “some students are lost”, as a teacher told me. While this lack of progress can be disheartening, teachers and NGOs continue their work for two reasons:

1) NGOs do not claim to provide a formal English education like the one provided by formal ESOL centres; rather their main purpose is to prepare people to go on to formal ESOL courses;

2) ESOL is not only about learning the language, but it also represents psychological support:

1 – Language is an empowering tool that has the potential to enable adults to live their lives autonomously and to take charge of decisions.
2 – The learning process in itself is able to nourish people’s resilience, self-esteem and hope.
3 – ESOL classes are often the only place where they socialise with other people in a relaxed and open environment and where they can stop thinking about their personal problems.

Listen to a teacher talking about the social side of ESOL:

Teachers are aware of the fundamental social support that ESOL classes provide and adjust learning objectives accordingly. Sometimes vocabulary and grammar lessons just can’t be the priority.

Listen to a teacher explaining why socialising is sometimes more important:

The role of ESOL in our society is more important than it appears- especially for adults. It cannot be considered in isolation as an education policy or a migration policy, but is fundamentally a holistic, social welfare policy. It is for this reason that a change of approach is necessary.

[h4]The Social and Psychological Impact[/h4]

In this blog series I have discussed the different perspectives of stakeholders in the ESOL system: from students to teachers, organizations to government. The recommendations below address each stakeholder individually and propose specific changes for each.

Moreover, these suggestions include an invitation to change the way we think of ESOL: we must recognize both the social and psychological benefits of ESOL along with the practical skills. ESOL is a holistic social welfare programme that has the effect of improving the quality of lives of migrants while also saving money for public services.

[h4]NGOs Increase Access[/h4]

Another important point that must be raised is that charities and NGOs are one of the main access points for individuals with low or no English skills to formal ESOL courses. How does someone who can’t read English find out about, let alone enrol in, a formal ESOL course at the local college? Typically they are brought to a community centre, charity, or community group. Sometimes they can be referred directly to a college or formal course; other times their skills are so low that they first attend a pre-ESOL course. This builds their confidence and gives them enough skills to actually learn in the formal courses.

The current ESOL system does not recognise the important role of charities and NGOs as access points which help individuals find out how to get the training they need. Any changes to the current ESOL system must take this into account and find ways of supporting, funding, and coordinating the work of these essential actors.

[h4]Revising ESOL for Students:[/h4][ul style=”arrow”]

  • Need an unified official information website with database of all ESOL courses (including informal classes)
  • More hours and more full-time courses in NGOs
  • More differentiated levels in courses
  • Wider use of alternative resources (Internet, newspapers) in courses
  • More advanced courses with attention to the proper use of grammar rather than the everyday practical use
  • Increase awareness of successful cases of English learning and alternative ways of independently studying English[/ul]

[h4]Revising ESOL for Teachers:[/h4][ul style=”arrow”]

  • More recognition of the work of volunteers
  • More interaction between ESOL teachers across the country
  • More detailed academic research
  • Build partnerships with psychological professionals[/ul]

[h4]Revising ESOL for Organisations:[/h4][ul style=”arrow”]

  • Fully fund support for people pre-formal ESOL courses
  • End of the cuts and squeeze in the ESOL system
  • Understand the essential role of the non-profit sector in helping individuals access formal ESOL courses
  • More collaboration between colleges and NGOs
  • More staff specifically trained for ESOL[/ul]

Without real will for change by the government and a turnaround in funding, most of these reforms cannot happen. Pouring volunteers into the system is also not a sustainable solution. Nevertheless, we must start with a shift to understanding ESOL as a holistic social programme, not just a practical language course. Some of these changes can be implemented on an individual basis and I hope that this blog series has included the most important voices: those of the students striving to learn English and improve their lives.

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