ESOL & Study Club, a British Red Cross group based in Islington, are seeing an impact from a new working relationship with UK English language tech platform, FlashAcademy®, to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee young people with limited or no access to education.
The ESOL project aims to meet the learning and language needs of unaccompanied young people aged 15-25, many of whom suffer from several complex issues including social isolation, trauma, and low self-confidence.
Young people attending the Study Club speak a range of different languages including Arabic, Tigrinya, Kurdish, and Pashto, and would normally meet with volunteers once a week. However, due to the pandemic, the British Red Cross team now assign work and communicate with their students via WhatsApp, thanks to a £3k fundraiser to purchase tablets, smartphones, and sim cards.
Megan Wright, the Project Coordinator, had major concerns over how the pandemic was going to impact an already vulnerable group, given that most of her students are not in education at all.
“We needed to think about how we were to continue successfully supporting our young people. We identified FlashAcademy® as a tech platform that could make a real difference, and we wanted to prioritise those in the group with no access to education whatsoever.”
Providing English language learning on all devices, including smartphones, has proven extremely beneficial at a time where, for the ESOL Study Club, face-to-face teaching has paused for the foreseeable future.
“We currently have students from Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, and many more. Many students are accessing our online ESOL support thanks to phones, tablets or data provided by the fundraiser”
“We have one Sudanese young person who was homeless, now living in a stable environment. FlashAcademy® is his only source of learning as his college course finished before lockdown and he has been unable to access our weekly video calls due to connectivity issues. He has been on FlashAcademy® almost every day and has already completed 24% of the lessons independently. This is amazing to see and demonstrates just how important having this additional tool is and how driven he is to learn.”
“Many of our students are unaccompanied and they do not always have people at home to support them. This, and the fact that we can’t physically be with the students, has made it difficult for us to help them access the platform, but once they’re in they instantly see the appeal!”
Although the Study Club predominantly work with local Further Education colleges, the team saw an influx of year 10s and 11s at the beginning of the year.
“We have one student from Kuwait who is illiterate in English. He had been attending secondary school before lockdown but did not receive any work until after the Easter holidays. He told his Project Coordinator how he had tried watching YouTube videos to learn but didn’t like them. After needing a bit of time to familiarise himself with the app, he now logs on almost daily without being prompted. He even sends me voice notes on WhatsApp to say thank you and how much he enjoys the app.”
As well as offering English curriculum content from 45 different home languages, the platform provides English to English learning, something which Megan says really makes FlashAcademy® stand out from other available EAL or ESOL resources.
“Some of our young people are illiterate in their home language, so learning English from English is proving a great success for them. What makes FlashAcademy® unique are the extensive lessons on the alphabet and phonics. This is something our learners really need and is absent from other popular English Learning apps. One student who is literate in his language actually requested I change his account to English because he preferred to learn this way!”
Technology has enabled this disadvantaged group to stay connected with the Study Club team, but it is the accessibility that has created new opportunities for independent learning for asylum-seeking and refugee young people cut off from the education world, providing them with the hope of better opportunities ahead.
“It really is an excellent learning tool for young people who are either not as well supported, or who simply have no learning to access. The ESOL club only runs once a week. FlashAcademy® has given those students lessons who are out of education an opportunity to learn on any and every day they want. The FlashAcademy® app is there to give them something accessible, useful, and engaging! I’m so excited to see how our young people will continue to progress with the platform and the opportunities it will help create for them.”
Veejay Lingiah, CEO of FlashAcademy® commented: “We’re 100% committed to supporting this group of vulnerable young people alongside The British Red Cross. We know that English is such an important skill to develop, which will help to improve their confidence and employability skills. My own parents were both immigrants into the UK and so I know first-hand just how important a helping hand can be for some of these individuals who want nothing more but to improve their life prospects.”