As we begin to look beyond the immediate world crisis, colleagues from the British Council’s Language for Resilience team tell us how their approach to building resilience for migrants can be applied to our work.

Resilience can be defined as the ability to survive and thrive in a crisis – whether due to conflict, climate and now, Covid-19. For people who have been through forced migration, language learning fosters resilience at a personal, community and institutional level. Learning and using a new language leads to opportunity. It also contributes to social cohesion with host communities, creating new and shared identities and a voice for advocacy.

'We ensure that the participants of the programme are its owners and creators. Building resilience is not a top down or passive process,' said Frankie Randle, Senior Project Manager at the British Council.

We asked the team to tell us what they have learned from the programme about resilience.

What has resilience come to mean to you through the work you're involved in?

Hala Ahmed (Regional Academic Manager English for Education Systems, British Council) - Until recently, resilience meant my ability, as well as the organisation's, to equip people in crises with specific skills to survive and to increase their life opportunities. Now, I feel I'm becoming a part of the resilience building process itself. Being resilient now includes my own ability to survive a critical work situation and step out of my comfort zone to prevent sincere efforts from being wasted and a learning journey from being interrupted.

Frankie Randle (Senior Project Manager, British Council) - The ability to bounce back in response to a crisis at an individual, community or institutional level. This is often about creating a space which provides some normality and room to think about future opportunities.

Claire Duly (Digital Design and Innovation Consultant, British Council) - I think it means learning to expect, as standard, significant changes in the social, political and security environments of individuals and communities. Resilience to me is a certain level of comfort with ambiguity, constant innovation and flexibility in the ways we achieve personal, programmatic and organisational goals.

Harry Haynes (English for Education Systems Senior Consultant, British Council) - Giving people the opportunity to develop professionally and academically as they would have done if it were not for their migrant or refugee status. Feedback from beneficiaries really focuses on how highly they value rare opportunities to do this and not to have their current strained circumstances define them and influence their future.

Can you give some examples of how resilience has developed through your work?

Frankie - In the Community Language Support Project we have worked with the Sudanese refugee community in Jordan. It has been amazing to witness. They have developed community education networks with the support of British Council training courses, which provide children who face discrimination with a safe environment to learn.

Hala - In the Higher and Further Education Opportunities and Perspectives for Syrians (HOPES) project, I have worked with teachers and partner universities to support Syrian refugees with their English skills. It has been inspiring to see how teachers developed personal skills including understanding, tolerance and empathy as well as professional skills. They won't only use these skills within the project but also within their own educational system.

Harry - In the HOPES project, and particularly in Turkey, a country with a different culture and language to Syria, it was clear through feedback from teachers and students that English classes provided a valuable opportunity for people from the host and displaced community to interact and learn about each other in a way that many had not done before. Based on feedback, this seemed a small but valuable step towards greater integration and strengthening of the community.

How do you build resilience into a programme?

Claire - By making sure there is as much flexibility as possible in all elements and stages of the programme to best anticipate and adapt to rapidly developing situations and contexts.

Harry - By listening to feedback and adapting programmes to the context. Students face major issues that are not always foreseen at the planning stage. 'Free' courses do have a cost, whether that is travel, competing priorities on time or how you access the course. Flexibility and an openness to change are vital. It's also important to create a positive, welcoming environment in which students feel valued and listened to.

Caspar Mays (Levant Cluster Lead Language for Resilience, British Council) - We find ourselves in challenging circumstances right now with Covid-19, but also, we find ourselves prepared. We can sustain engagement with our networks of teachers as we have always been delivering remotely.

Do you have any advice for educators who are designing and adapting their programmes considering the current Covid-19 crisis?

Hala - Moving to a digital plan now seems to be urgent. However, with the enormous amount of information and resources available, colleagues as well as beneficiaries could become misled, overwhelmed and challenged. So, being selective, realistic and sensitive to local context is important.

Frankie - Digital methods can leave out more vulnerable and marginalised groups, so greater investment of time and resources is required to ensure programming is equitable.

Harry - For many, learning through digital media will be a completely new experience – students and teachers can need a lot of support in successfully signing up for and navigating courses. Make sure this support is built in and resourced at the planning stage. Also, if course materials are not engaging, drop-out will be very high.

Caspar - Don't assume that moving online will be free and quick. Start with what you want to teach and how you want to teach it and then explore how digital technology will assist you to reach remote communities. Assume low digital literacy and poor connectivity – make sure that you invest time in setting up peer support networks so that the basics, such as logging in, are covered. Remove this obstacle early and things will be so much easier.

Claire – Few things are more harmful than short term measures that become permanent solutions. Make sure you have (and stick to) trigger points and a review period for change throughout the programme to ensure that the measures you have taken are still appropriate to the context.

Feedback from participants

When I joined this grand course, I was anticipating a lonely electronic journey whereby I would be 'told' how to do things. Little did I expect to step into a treasure island of such incredible resources, teaching excellence and wealth of information. The course has rekindled my teaching spirit and given me impetus to pursue further study in this very pertinent and vital field.

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This article was originally published in the Bulletin, the British Council’s employee magazine.

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