Refugee learners will be left behind

BY JIM CHIPP
Last updated 12:02 26/08/2010

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The Wellingtonian

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Recently-announced tweaks to pre-employment programmes aim to get more people into work, but will consign others to a lifetime on the dole, say teachers.

The Tertiary Education Commission is not denying the suggestion.

The Social Development Ministry and the Tertiary Education Commission announced changes to their Training Opportunities Programme two weeks ago that would split the training fund.

Work and Income will manage 40 per cent of it, providing short-term, local industry-focused courses for people who are almost work-ready. The Tertiary Education Commission will spend the remainder on courses for those at greatest risk of long-term unemployment.

The changes will take effect next year and are expected to provide 10,400 extra training places per year for the same funding, but courses under both funds will be time-limited.

The time individuals will be allowed to spend on either programme will be too short for non-English speaking refugees, according to Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Aotearoa New Zealand.

Spokesman Marty Pilott, who teaches English to refugees and migrants in Newtown, said teaching institutions had been told that vocational courses would be limited to 13 weeks and literacy courses, including English as a second language, to 26 weeks.

Not enough was being done to ensure refugees had sufficient English to cope with living or working in New Zealand, he said.

"Refugees often arrive here in a state of shock," Mr Pilott said. "Many have had no education and must first learn how to learn.

"They are often suffering physical and mental trauma and have worries about their families both here and trapped overseas.

"They are not in a good state to learn anything rapidly.

"While some may make quick progress, others need at least three years before their English is adequate."

Mr Pilott said employers were often reluctant to employ qualified and fluent immigrants, so refugees were doubly disadvantaged.

"If they are restricted to a maximum of two 26-week courses, and still have insufficient English to manage, what then?

"The Government has no programmes in place to provide adequate English learning outside of unemployment courses.

"This means they will be paying a benefit for life to large numbers of refugees who are desperate to work for a living but will be unable to do so."

Tertiary Education Commission private training establishment and community education director Pauline Barnes said English language tuition was still available to refugees or migrants through several channels.

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"Tuition is provided via institutes of technology and polytechnics, as well as organisations such as English Language Partners," she said.

"Other channels for English language tuition are community English groups for relative newcomers to New Zealand, home tutoring taught by volunteers, and English as a second language literacy courses taught by paid tutors."

The commission and the Social Development Ministry were preparing the criteria for Training Opportunities Programme for next year. The information was expected to be published on their websites in early October.

- The Wellingtonian

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