We have a unique pedagogy and years of experience delivering accessible community ESOL. Our teaching methods blend participatory education and community organising techniques.
Our work is inspired by radical educator Paulo Freire and by ActionAid’s Reflect ESOL project. We believe in ‘participatory education’, which is also sometimes called ‘learner-led education’ or ‘democratic education’. It’s a collaborative form of learning, that starts from students sharing their experiences. As a class, we then build on the experiences and existing knowledge of the participants involved. Participatory education is political – by treating everyone with respect and challenging established hierarchies in the classroom we are better equipped to begin to look critically at the world outside the classroom.
EFA London classes are a safe space where participants can share stories and discuss their lives. Although the teacher brings English language expertise to the group, all of our participants have skills and knowledge that they can also share. We facilitate students to teach each other where possible, as in our experience this creates excellent learning outcomes. We also honour students’ understanding of their own needs: they tell us what language they want to learn and what they’d like to say and we help them find the words. We use many participatory education tools and activities in our work. For example, we encourage in-depth group discussion on problems which are relevant to our students and analyse causes and solutions to problems using graphics tools such as ‘problem trees’.
We believe that participatory ESOL classes are a unique space for building community and democratic participation. In 2013 we published a report called “Whose Integration?“, we explored the term ‘integration’ with our students using participatory methods. In 2014 we published a follow-on report, The Power of Discussion, which further examined participatory methods and the impact they can have on learning.
We deliver courses in community locations that are familiar and convenient for the participants we want to reach. Our students tell us what day and time suits them and we arrange free crèches where we can. Our classroom is a place where people are valued, listened to, included, supported and have an active involvement in the content of their classes.
We aim to build powerful learning communities where our participants gain the skills, knowledge and networks to effect change – along with the confidence to try.
What is ‘community organising’? ‘Community organising’ is a form of grassroots political activism that builds people power. It encourages people to get together to build powerful networks that can then, through focused campaigns, change things in their local area or even further afield. Citizens UK is one the main centres for community organising in the UK and EFA London is a member in east and south London. This means that our participants can access leadership training, get involved in campaigns in their local area or get support with their own campaigns if they so wish. We are very grateful also to Community Organisers Ltd for funding our organising in east London, where thanks to their support we have set up a social action hub and trained over 150 ESOL students in community organising.
In our classes, we do things like ‘listening campaigns’, where you talk to people in your community to see if there are issues that a large number of people have in common. We nurture relationships between participants to improve what community organisers call their ‘relational power’. We also use frameworks from community organising for analysing problems by looking at how changeable they are and who has the power to change them. You can read more about the actions we’ve taken with our participants on our action page.