www.gazette.education.govt.nz

Saturday 22 July 2017

Refugees gain skills for new life

A state-of-the-art school within the Mangere Refugee Centre, including 12 new flexible classroom spaces, opened recently on World Refugee Day 2017.

The transformation of the school within the Mangere Refugee Centre has stunned ex-refugee Adel Salmanzadeh, who lived at the centre when he arrived in this country in 1989.

He says that the new facilities are incredible compared with the old buildings – although he has many fond memories of the past, especially meeting his future wife, Maxine, while staying at the centre.

“When I originally stayed there, they still had blackboards in the classrooms. Now, there’s digital devices, multimedia, whiteboards – and everything is state-of-the-art.”

The school teaches both adults and children, with English language and life skills taught. Refugees stay at the Mangere site for six weeks before moving elsewhere.

The AUT’s Maria Hayward is the manager of the Centre for Refugee Education. She says the upgrade will make a huge difference, and sends a strong message.

“Most refugees have a history of flight, loss and fear, and often with experiences of oppression, brutality and many speak no English when they arrive. Our job is to make the newcomers feel truly welcome and included.

“The new building says ‘We respect and value you. You deserve warm, pleasant and well designed classrooms’. The openness of the design of the teaching spaces provides a feeling of transparency and safety.

“And the new furniture is comfortable and culturally appropriate. There is a range of different types of seating arrangements, tables, soft and hard surfaces.”

Unlike traditional classrooms, the  teaching areas are open, flexible and interconnected, as they are innovative learning environment (ILE) spaces.

Maria says, “The ILEs allow students with gaps in learning to catch up at their own pace, to learn from peers, teachers or through IT devices. And the teaching is less hierarchical, which provides learners with confidence to regain a sense of power.

“The building doesn’t have interior walls, and that is very appropriate for refugees – open spaces give a sense of community and transparency.”

Naima Ali, originally from Somalia, works with refugee youth in the community. She says the education provided by the school is highly valued by the refugees as it is very practical, and the new classrooms will help to create an even better future for everyone who goes through them.

“As well as gaining valuable skills such as English language, they learn about every aspect of life in New Zealand, and acquire the life skills and knowledge they need to get a foothold in this country.”

Naima, who is currently studying for a master’s degree, says the new classrooms are bright and full of colour, and that helps the students feel at home in learning what they need to know.

“They learn about things such as daylight saving and every aspect of everyday life, as well as their ABCs – and the school is also a great introduction to education pathways.”