Academic journal article Refuge

Adult Refugee Learners with Limited Literacy: Needs and Effective Responses

Academic journal article Refuge

Adult Refugee Learners with Limited Literacy: Needs and Effective Responses

Article excerpt


Adult refugees with limited education are a distinctive learner group with substantial and distinctive educational, social, and psychological needs. Working with these learners is a highly specialized activity, requiring high levels of educational skill and commitment. With a paucity of original research available about this group of learners, this study provides a systematic documentation of their distinctive needs as well as effective educational strategies for use with these learners. The study involved interviews with 36 adult refugees, two program co-ordinators, five course teachers, and six bilingual tutors from a community-based program in New Zealand. The challenge of working with these learners arises due not only to their experiences as refugees, but also as learners with minimal or no educational experience. Their progress depends on a skilful development of "learning to learn," acquiring basic literacy skills, personal confidence and transfer of these skills to everyday life outside the classroom.


Les refugies adultes peu scolarises forment un groupe distinct d'apprenants ayant des besoins educatifs, sociaux et psychologiques importants et particuliers. Travailler avec ces apprenants est une activite hautement specialisee, qui exige des niveaux eleves de competences educatives et d'engagement. Etant donne le peu de travaux de recherche originaux disponibles sur cegroupe d'apprenants, cette etude fournit une documentation systematique de leurs besoins particuliers et presente des strategies d'enseignement efficaces pour ces apprenants. Vetude a porte sur des entretiens avec 36 refugies adultes, deux coordonnateurs de programme, cinq enseignants et six tuteurs bilingues dun programme communautaire en Nouvelle-Zelande. Travailler avec ces apprenants pose un defi non seulement en raison de leur experience en tant que refugies, mais aussi en tant quapprenants nayant que peu ou pas d'experience educative. Leur succes depend de leur habilete a <>, de Vacquisition de competences de base dalphabetisation, de la confiance en soi et du transferi de ces competences a la vie quotidienne en dehors de la salle de classe.


New Zealand accepts up to 750 refugees each year from around the world. Typically, these people are "the casualties of crises such as brutal regimes, civil war, anarchy and famine. Often, they are at risk because of their ethnicity, political beliefs or religion. They may have endured persecution, torture, rape or abduction, or have witnessed killings. Many arrive after perilous journeys and detention in refugee camps, having lost loved ones, homes, possessions and jobs." (1)

Once they arrive in New Zealand, the refugees who have spent time in transit camps are initially inducted over a six-week period into local life and introduced to refugee-focused NGOs and other settlement agencies at a refugee centre in Auckland. From here the new arrivals are dispersed around the country to centres usually chosen because there are already compatriots settled there. On reaching their new destination, a range of services (both government and voluntary) come into operation to help in the settlement.

Each new arrival is entitled to up to 100 hours of teaching with a government-funded provider. Typically, those with more education study at more formal institutions, while those with low-level skills attend courses run by community-based organizations.

Research Purpose

The purpose of this study was to document and analyze the learning needs and issues of adult refugees with low language and literacy skills by looking at how their prior experiences and current contexts affect their educational participation and learning. In addition, the study has sought to identify preferred educational strategies for teaching these learners. The specific focus of the study was adult refugee learners with low-level language and literacy skills (in English, but often also in their first or mother language (LI) currently enrolled in educational programs with a major community-based provider. …

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