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47.5% feel “unprepared” to teach refugees

One in two teachers worldwide feel unprepared to teach refugee students in their classrooms, new research has revealed.

Teachers expressed concern around not knowing the full extent of the experiences and difficulties that refugees may have faced before joining their classrooms. Photo: pexels

Internet access may be capped in housing, further limiting access to target language resources

According to an Oxford University Press survey of 537 school and English language teachers globally, six in 10 teach refugees but 47.5% feel unprepared or lack the confidence to teach them.

Only 9% said they feel very confident in their ability to do teach them effectively.

The world’s largest university press said the findings show that a lack of literacy in their first language can be a barrier to refugees learning a second language.

“Language poses a real dilemma for many refugee students,” Ben Knight, head of Language Content, Research, and Pedagogy at OUP, said.

“It can be a huge barrier to them engaging in their learning if they don’t speak the native language, yet learning a new language can be difficult for a variety of reasons.

“Additionally, it’s not always possible for teachers to tailor teaching materials to help students feel included and more integrated with their peers, and, in trying to provide appropriate translations, there is a risk of misconstruing the understanding of a topic or the context that it is taught in.”

The research found that 62% of teachers have experience teaching a refugee.

Among those who had no experience teaching refugees, a lack of teaching materials (59%) and causing offence (66%) were the two biggest concerns.

Teachers told researchers that they need tailored resources, safe spaces for direct communication and sensitivity training.

For those who had taught refugees, 68% said the cultural adjustment to their new learning environment was the biggest challenge while learning.

A further 60% said uncertainty and expectations about their future was a significant challenge, 59% trauma and mental health and 53% a lack of basic literacy skills.

Among the recommendations, practical guidance and advice for schools outlined in a paper commissioned by the publisher, adapting to, and possibly integrating into, the host country is key for refugees.

“Refugees tend to be housed in asylum centres outside urban areas, with few opportunities to interact with native speakers.

“Housing learners with others with the same L1 background increases the temptation to avoid the target language, and capped access to the internet further limits learners’ access to target language resources,” the report says.

In addition, internet access may be capped, further limiting access to target language resources.

“In order to give every student the best chance to succeed, educators must be supported too”

“At OUP, our hope is that the guidance we have published can allow schools and teachers to adequately prepare for and support refugees in a simple way that doesn’t take time away from what they do best,” Knight added.

“After all, in order to give every student the best chance to succeed, educators must be supported too.”

The paper also found that refugees can have a positive impact on the classroom, including increased cultural and linguistic diversity, and that refugees’ life experiences can be a source of interest helping to increase their peers’ understanding and knowledge of the wider world.

Teachers also reflected on the most rewarding aspects of working with refugees and the ‘glimmer of hope’ that education can provide, OUP added.

One teacher in Guatemala explained, “This hope lies in knowing and believing that if they master a new language or skill, their fortunes could change, leading them to a better life.”

At the end of 2022, of the 108.4 million displaced people across the world, an estimated 43.3 million (40%) were children below 18 years of age.

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