Nicola Sutton, Chief Executive | English Language Partners New Zealand
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, said Plato and we have found this to be true.
Our work is teaching English to adults, and until 25 March 2020, this was done in face-to-face classes. All across New Zealand, learners gathered with the purpose of improving their language skills so they could participate more effectively in daily life and settle well in New Zealand.
Access to technology and the internet, along with limited language and family responsibilities, are considerable barriers facing people from former refugee and migrant backgrounds.
In the first week of lockdown level 4, over 500 of ELP’s learners were engaged in online classes. In five weeks, the number rose to 1,973. There were 285 classes meeting regularly and over 28,500 hours of English lessons had been attended by learners.
What made this a success? The teachers.
“The level of innovation by our teachers surpassed all expectation. The first lessons started the day after lockdown with teachers organising their own technology and phoning learners to tell them about classes and how to access them. All kinds of delivery started as we scrambled to provide training for our teams,” said Jo Leach, programmes manager at English Language Partners New Zealand (ELP).
Teachers innovated. They made it happen. Their commitment to the learners saw them get started, teach themselves, take up training opportunities, and learn through their and others’ mistakes. Teachers used a wide range of platforms, some they were familiar with, and some learners were familiar with. In addition to this, ELP-trained teachers to use Zoom and provided licences so they could access all the features.
Learners’ families and staff from ELP supported those learners who wanted to engage but did not have the skills. We were amazed at the number of older people and those with little or no literacy skills participating. And, for learners who could not access online learning, our teachers and other staff supported them with regular phone calls.
Week by week, classes became more polished as everyone got to grips with a new approach to teaching, and teachers shared what they learnt. Feedback from learners was very positive.
ELP will look back on 2020 as the moment when a whole new way of delivering our services was birthed. We are excited by the possibilities. Learners can now choose to participate in face-to-face classes or join an online community; some might choose to do both.
Our vision, that former refugees and migrants can participate successfully in all aspects of life in Aotearoa, just got a massive boost.