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Funding Change Will Keep Refugees On Benefits

Teachers of English
to Speakers of Other Languages
Aotearoa New Zealand


Funding Change Will Keep Refugees Stuck On Benefits

Changes to training courses announced last week by the Ministry of Social Development and the TEC will leave refugees permanently stuck on the dole, unable to work or develop new skills, according to TESOLANZ, the national association of ESOL Teachers.

The government last week announced drastic reductions to the availability of Training Opportunities, a fully-funded course aimed at moving unemployed people into work or further training. According to the Ministry of Social Development, research claims that those who attend training courses actually spend longer on the benefit, and so time spent on the courses is to be drastically reduced. Vocational courses will last no longer than 13 weeks and literacy courses (including ESOL) no longer than 26 weeks.

Marty Pilott, secretary of TESOLANZ, pointed out that there are few specific policies aimed at ensuring that refugees have sufficient English to cope with living or working in New Zealand.

“Refugees often arrive here in a state of shock. 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..” He said that New Zealand employers are often reluctant to employ even highly-qualified and fluent immigrants, so refugees are 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. “

Most providers - private schools, polytechnics or universities - no longer offer any kind of courses for immigrants and refugees with low-level English because they are unable to meet the outcomes (work or further study) required by funded programmes. This leaves refugees with no other significant options to learn English if they are given insufficient time to learn English.

“A further problem arises when refugees have finished their allowed 52 weeks of ESOL. The ESOL programme is aimed at getting them up to the stage where everyone else starts. At that point they would benefit from a vocational course. Will they be permitted to undertake a further 13 weeks after completing their ESOL programme? And how are they expected to gain a vocational certificate within 13 weeks while learning in a foreign language?”

TESOLANZ advocates that the Government adopt an official languages policy which guarantees refugees ESOL courses until such time as they are able to cope with life in New Zealand.


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