Today, my colleagues students from English for Action and I are taking part in ‘1 Day Without Us’. This is a nationwide day of action and celebration, aimed at drawing attention to the contribution that migrants make to Britain. We see it as a celebration of the array and diversity of cultures that exist on this planet.
What does it mean to take action with students? How can we make sure actions are led by learners not by teachers? How can we discuss and plan action in the ESOL classroom without imposing on students who just want to learn English? This January, English for Action staff and volunteers met up to explore these questions and share our skills, tools and ideas.
Lots of our students have noticed a rise of racism and xenophobia in recent times. Streatham in south London is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse parts of the city – at one time boasting more languages than anywhere in the UK.
Where better to discuss multi-lingual London? Our students in one of our Streatham classes were discussing languages in the community. One student told a story of a friend somewhere out of London who was in the supermarket, speaking Polish to her daughter, when someone came up to her and told her to “speak English”.
The following week we discussed the issue in greater depth using a technique called “problem-posing from a code”, which originates from Paulo Freire, one of our inspirations at EFA. Here is the code, which is a picture of the story from the week before: Continue reading
50 EFA students, teachers and supporters came together on Saturday 15th October to discuss Brexit, its impact on our communities and plan action in response.
Why did we organise Brexit Day?
Before the referendum EFA teachers spoke to their students about Brexit. We understood that many people were worried about Brexit and the future. Staff and trustees discussed and decided to join the Remain campaign. We felt that staying in the UK would be the best thing for the UK and especially for our students, many of whom are EU migrants.
The result of the EU referendum is having a massive impact on ESOL teachers and students. This post is mostly for ESOL teachers as they try to be supportive and hopeful when they are probably in need of support and hope themselves.
Teachers at EFA have been sharing our lessons, our students’ thoughts and our own worries and hopes over the last week and we wanted to reach out to other teachers. Here are some of the questions we have been asked by students and teachers have been asking each other:
What will happen to EU citizens in the UK?
Will there be another referendum?
What will happen to freedom of movement between EU countries in the future?
How can we oppose racism and xenophobia most effectively?
What can we do to support students who are scared about the future?
How can we help to rebuild our communities after such a divisive campaign and response to the result?
We only have the beginnings of answers to some of these questions and will continue to explore them with our students, colleagues and allies. In terms of the first three questions, we won’t be campaigning for another referendum or for parliament to ignore the result, but we encourage everyone to fight for continued freedom of movement and the right to remain for all EU migrants already here. This is a big issue for our students. Hope not Hate, among others, are lobbying the Tory leadership campaign candidates (after all it will likely be the new Conservative leader doing the negotiations) to accept the right to remain.
The fourth question is an urgent one. We would urge all students (and teachers of course) to report hate crime if they experience it. Perhaps it’s a good idea to share information about how to do that. Perhaps this video, from Stop Hate UK, would be good to show in class too?
In terms of the fourth and fifth questions, there is a tension to be found however between tooling people up for the sometimes unpleasant and dangerous world we belong to and scaring people or making people feel depressed? ESOL should be a safe space for students as well as a space to discuss and challenge injustice. Our approach is to be gentle, to ask students how they are feeling rather than launching into a “Brexit” lesson. If you plan to tackle the issues, then it’s worth having a plan b lesson under your sleeve in case the vibe you are getting is “can we please not talk about it?”. Remember also that some of our students will have voted “leave” and they should not be made to feel like the enemy. Our experience over the last week however is that students do want to talk about it. So what works?
- Perhaps start the class with a round where everyone says how they feel. Do some language work about these feelings.
- If people say they don’t feel welcome anymore, remind them that in their local community they are welcome (this works better in some areas than others and all EFA classes are in inner London boroughs) and in their ESOL class they are EXCEPTIONALLY welcome. This last point drew some smiles last week.
- Analyse the issue in small groups. People are less exposed this way and can say what they think. If people are upset they are better able to control their participation than in a whole group situation. They might feel more comfortable about expressing their feelings too. Here are some picture prompts: eu referendum pictures.
- Create a group writing about the situation. Here is one created by Joanna’s class in Hackney:
” We are worried. The economy is down. Lots of people apply for residency. They are worried because if they don’t have residency, maybe they can’t have a job in future. And if people can’t come from other European countries, no more cleaners and builders in London.Also, some Colombian people lived here a long time and they have a British passport. On Facebook, they tell new people from Spain and Italy to go home because they are on benefits. It is not good”
- Why not try a Brexit problem tree? This worked really well in Becky’s class in Bow. The roots of the tree are the causes, the branches the consequences and the fruit the action we can take.
- Discuss and anaylse action. Give students a chance to talk about what action they would like to take (if any). Joanna has prepared these materials about the demonstration last weekend.
Finally, hope for the future and re-building our communities? We must join together with other groups fighting for the same things. We must continue to fight against the cuts that are likely to get worse. These anti-austerity struggles must involve migrants. Communities can be built through struggling together for our rights and there will need to be stronger struggles than ever before. ESOL needs to reach out to campaigning groups and vice versa. ESOL teachers, you are in the right place at the right time! Let us continue to build safe spaces and powerful groups. They have never been more needed.
In recent years, one of EFA’s most requested class topics has been housing. Many of us are suffering from precarious housing situations and experiencing the London housing crisis first hand. EFA has responded by collaborating with groups like Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, where students attend regular meetings to discuss housing problems and who have run housing rights sessions in our classes.
We have listened to an array of stories including severe overcrowding, disrepair and a landlord even demanding that an EFA student pay for their own bailiffs.
EFA student Kenza in Southwark told us about her shocking housing situation. Earlier this month, Kenza, her husband and her two sons (two years and four years) were made homeless. After long and difficult interviews, they were provided temporary accommodation in a hostel.
On arriving at the hostel, they found the property had not been cleaned since the previous tenant had moved out, the mattress was brown with dirt. Kenza and her husband checked the room to make sure it was safe for their children and were shocked to find drawers full of syringes, they also found blood on the wall.
This is unsuitable and dangerous accommodation for anybody, let alone a family with two children under five. Kenza asked the agent to clean the property, and when they refused, she asked the council to clean it. The council said if the agent didn’t do it, there was nothing that they could do.
In the end, Kenza had to clean the property, potentially endangering herself by clearing out hypodermic needles. It took her days of hard work.
Kenza, with the support of English for Action, is calling on Southwark Council to accommodate her and her family in safe and suitable housing.
This situation sadly is not an isolated case, not only do we want Kenza to be rehoused, but we also want the London Borough of Southwark to address some wider questions:
- Why is the London Borough of Southwark providing and paying for sub-standard accommodation?
- What commitments can Southwark council make us in order that no other homeless people have to go through the same ordeal as Kenza and her family?
Join us in calling on Southwark Council to rehouse Kenza and her family in safe and suitable accommodation:
Write a letter to Cllr Peter John, like Kenza’s classmates
Do you have a temporary accommodation story? Share it on Twitter using #TempAccommodation #CleanUpYourAct hashtag.
If you are experiencing housing difficulties, join your local housing network and attend meetings like the ones Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth organise.
We’re thrilled to announce a brand new ESOL class starting in Hackney at IntoUniversity next week!
Do you know anybody interested in improving their English and getting more involved in the local community?
Classes are on Wednesdays from 10am – 12 noon.
Starting on Wednesday 18th May
Improve your English and get involved in the community!
- Improve your English – speaking, listening, reading and writing
- Get to know people in your area
- Share ideas about the local community
- Share your experiences with the rest of the class
IntoUniversity Hackney South,
All Saints Centre, Livermere Rd, London E8 4HT
On Monday 15th February, EFA held an ESOL celebration event organised by learners at Surrey Square School.
“We are English for Action ESOL students and we all think that English is very important, not only for our lives, but also for the progress of the country. ESOL is cheaper than funding interpreting services. We don’t think the government would like us to sit idle at home instead of going to work because of our lack of English.
We students must not give up, or the government will keep cutting. We need your support!”
Students wrote this message together, sentence by sentence, in class.