Strengthening communities with ESOL

05 Mar 2018

Written by Chris Andersson

Guest blog by Hafsha Shaikh, ESOL tutor at Online Centre Smartlyte in Birmingham.

Smartlyte were thrilled to be invited to take part in the English My Way. We know there is a need for people to learn English, and there are a number of local organisations offering English classes, but there are still huge barriers to accessibility. A lot of these are around cost, childcare, the perceived localness of the organisations, and the need for women's only classes.

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The English My Way classes allowed us to address and remove many of these barriers. By working with the local children's centre we were able to provide childcare. By using known and very local venues learners felt able to attend and through word of mouth and having a local presence, the classes engaged women only!

The sessions have allowed women of all ages and at all stages of their lives to engage with the programme. We have four grandmothers on the courses, many women from the same extended families and many women who have announced pregnancies during the course. Our first English My Way babies are due in spring!

Our biggest challenge has been moving the learners on to other programmes. Whilst a few have moved onto local classes, many have faced barriers of having to ask their working husbands to pay for classes, Some classes do not start till September and some are not allowed to travel on buses to other classes.

We have overcome this by maintaining a voluntary group where the women can meet, engage and learn on a weekly basis. This informal group will meet for a weekly coffee and chat, arrange local trips, talks and encourage other local women to join both the group and the English My Way programme. We hope that by offering this safe meeting space, the success of all the women will grow.

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It is very difficult to pinpoint a single success story as the whole experience for us has been a success! However, we have two sisters in their fifties who joined the programme. Both have lived in the UK for many years, but have never ventured further than their local areas. Both had no experience of any formal education. They both joined the programme with their nieces. It has been an absolute joy watching both these ladies learn. The first time they wrote their names independently - without copying - was a lovely moment and one that we all shared proudly.

Other successes have included seeing women develop their confidence, to be able to act as peer supporters, teaching and encouraging other women in the group. The women are also joining local IT classes, joining the local library and engaging more socially.

English My Way is a great programme in enabling learners to commence their learning journeys, together with the other benefits of developing skills, confidence and aspirations for themselves and their families.