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Using Digital Tools To Help Teach Refugees

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Nick Bilbrough, the founder of the Hands Up Project, which has just recently been granted charity status, has been teaching English through Skype to children in refugee camps for the past two years. It all started with a group of children in a library in Gaza, but has by now expanded to include camps in other parts of Palestine and even into Jordan.

“One of the things we’re concerned with is developing global citizens”, says Nick. “It’s not just about learning a language; it’s about enabling people to communicate with other children in other countries and, by that, the idea of becoming a global citizen.”

Most of his course relies on storytelling. As the students’ access to English resources is limited, they haven’t had many opportunities to talk with people outside their own country. Thus, as Nick explains, storytelling is “one of the most effective ways … of exposing learners to natural spoken language.” This is especially true for low-level learners, as they can still get involved in the process despite their lack of language skills.

Teaching via Skype has been a fairly unique experience for Nick. “It’s very different working in an online environment because you feel that there is a distance between you and the student. You almost want to jump out of the screen”, he jokes. Power cuts and other interruptions are common in the Gaza strip, but he’s used to it by now. He also thinks that there are advantages to this approach, as there are a lot of opportunities for creative teaching, like using puppets or zooming on twigs so that they “showcase trees” when he’s telling some particular story.

Though “the students in refugee camps often don’t have the opportunity to use English naturally to communicate with people who don’t speak their own language, the Hands Up Project is an extraordinary way of connecting people who would otherwise never be exposed to each other”, concludes Nick.

“Exploiting Digital Tools to Teach Languages to Refugees”, Nick Bilbrough. Cambridge University Press, 5 April, 2017, P4

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