Author: Karin Goodwin
Inside Glasgow Clyde College’s 16+ English language class, young people seeking asylum – many of whom have fled from war zones or persecution and come to Scotland without their parents – are not only learning a new language, but also how to cope with change.
Here in Glasgow’s Anniesland campus, students, most aged 16-18, are from countries including Sudan, Vietnam, Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Somalia, speaking a total of 10 different languages.
Their heritage is celebrated on the classroom walls, plastered with colourful flags and welcoming slogans – “we are all human” is one, “our diversity is our beauty” is another.
Many young people here are coping with profound trauma and the loss of family and other loved ones.
They are also adapting to a whole new life, thousands of miles from countries they once called home and dealing with the insecurity and anxiety of the asylum system.
Circumstances mean many have not been in education for several years. Now busy with an arts-based activity planning out a new city in groups – combining new vocabulary with negotiating decisions in English – they are fully engaged in learning. Their priorities are apparent in their drawings. One group puts the court at the very centre of their city plan. Justice is the most important thing, they claim.
Another group is creating the “City of Dreams” while others put emphasis on green space where young people can play and relax. Some have churches and mosques side by side, while one young man from Egypt says religion only causes trouble – there will be neither in his city.
Anywhere else in Scotland, and in much of the UK, these young people would be put into a standard English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) class. The emphasis is often on preparing adults who have moved to the UK for employment.
Now the Scottish Refugee Council is calling for this 16+ model to be rolled out across the country and made available to all young people in the asylum system.
In partnership with Aberlour Childcare Trust the charity will work with Glasgow Clyde College to document and refine the curriculum and teaching resources before promoting it across Scotland and even beyond.
Lyn Ma, a senior lecturer overseeing the two levels of the 16+ course, said the college identified the need for a separate course several years ago.
“One of the most important things it offers them is the opportunity to make a new peer group,” she said. “They are young teenagers and need a peer group that understands them, can identify with their struggles and hopes.”
The aim of the class, she claimed, was to provide “a place of security and safety, where they can begin to imagine what might be possible for them”.
One young man, she added, told her: “We came here broken.” The course aims not only to teach language, but support young people to rebuild their lives.
THERE is help dealing with bereavement – the group can join the Seasons for Growth programme, a facilitated course for children, young people or adults who have experienced significant change or loss.
Ma is also part guidance teacher, forming a strong bond with the young people and signposting additional help as necessary.
There are also plenty of opportunities for students to make bonds with each other – there are trips, outdoor learning and students do the John Muir Award.
“From this place of safety they can start to plan and work towards the lives they want to have,” added Ma.
After mastering English, graduates have continued studies at university and gone on to successful careers in everything from art to nursing.
Christine Uwase is just one of the success stories, arriving alone in Glasgow four years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo where she never had any formal education.
At first she was placed in an adult ESOL class, but after a couple of months was moved to the 16+ course where she began to flourish.
“Joining this class was the best thing ever as it was a group of young people who were roughly the same age as me,” she said. “We easily connected.
“I wasn’t lonely any more and I loved going to college which wasn’t the case when I was in a different class.