Selfless volunteers use language skills to help children in need19 June 2017
Refugees at schools in Reading have been given extra help to get their education back on track thanks to the compassion of students at the University of Reading.
More than 300 students signed up to this year’s Students in Schools scheme, which sees university students give up their time to help pupils in local schools. Many these have foreign language skills and can help pupils who have come to the UK from abroad, some having fled conflict in their home countries.
Several of the Year 7-11 pupils to benefit this year were from Syria and had not had access to formal education for several years. The assistance from Arabic-speaking students at the University of Reading was therefore invaluable in helping them in their bid to catch up and pass their GCSEs.
"These strong relationships are important for the young people and their parents." - Farida Khan, EAL co-ordinator at Prospect School
Farida Khan, EAL Co-ordinator at Prospect School, said the school had taken on five Syrian pupils for this academic year, who had been helped by 14 Reading student volunteers.
She said: “As a pupil in a foreign school, you can sit in a maths class and be good with numbers but not be able to understand the instructions. It was nice to have access to student volunteers, for their enthusiasm and willingness to travel to be there to help our pupils make some remarkable progress.
“The pupils have been asking where the students have been while they were taking their university exams. These strong relationships are important for the young people and their parents. Our teachers have also been very positive in their feedback.”
Of the University of Reading students who took part, nine spoke Arabic, while others were from Italian, Romanian, Chinese, Kurdish and English-speaking backgrounds.
The volunteers helped the pupils in almost every subject across the curriculum. They provided one-to-one reading and translating in class and helped them with their reading and writing, while making them feel comfortable and safe in their new environment. Some taught lessons to small groups of pupils or even attended evening meetings to translate for parents.
‘I feel happy and safe’
Mouhannad Al Aatal is a Year 7 pupil at Prospect School. He came to England in October 2016 with his family from Syria having been out of formal school since the age of six. He said: “I could not speak any English when I came but now I can speak a little English. I came to Prospect School and I came to extra English lessons, and now my English is better. Arabic teachers helped me sometimes in lessons too.
“I feel happy now and I’m safe and I like my school. I have new friends. My best subjects are Maths and Science. I like school and I like to go to the library at break time. I like to play games with my friends.”
"It’s not only the children who benefit. Our students get valuable experience in a real workplace." - Judy Macdevitt, Students in Schools co-ordinator at the University of Reading
Judy Macdevitt, who co-ordinates the Students in Schools scheme at the University of Reading, said: “I am delighted that our Arabic-speaking students were able to help these children, especially having heard how determined they are to catch up on their missed schooling and to make the most of their new opportunities.
“But it’s not only the children who benefit. Our students get valuable experience in a real workplace which helps boost their self-confidence and helps them develop their communication skills.”
Students who signed up to the University’s long-running Students in School scheme this year worked in 28 schools in Reading, including Prospect School, John Madejski Academy, both Maiden Erlegh schools, UTC, Whitley Park, Redlands, Meadow Park, Battle The Ridgeway, Christ the King, and Alfred Sutton Primary Schools.
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Reading, said: “The Students in Schools scheme has now been running for 20 years and, over those two decades, more than 5,500 students have participated. It has been another successful year and I’d like to express my warmest thanks to all students who took part.”
To find out more about in the Students in Schools scheme, visit https://www.reading.ac.uk/sis or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo caption: Students in Schools volunteer from the University of Reading Souz Ahmed with Prospect School Year 11 pupils Khaled Hayan Al Aatal (L) and Maram Mahmoud Alsubhat (R)