Migrant parents in Australia say they face extra challenges posed by the home learning model, including a language barrier.

April 17, 2020 16:35:38
Sydney mother Jing Hong almost broke down in tears trying to make sense of the remote learning curriculum, and the dozens of instructions given to her daughter for learning from home.
Key points:

  • Some migrant parents feel unable to assist their children due to language barriers
  • There is also concern migrant families may not have sufficient access to technologies
  • Parents are encouraged to reach out for support and use the free Translating and Interpreting Service

She is just one of the thousands of migrant parents in Australia struggling to keep up with the current online learning model, their efforts frustrated by a language barrier and a lack of knowledge of Australia’s education system.
Most New South Wales students started online learning at the end of term one and Victorian students began term two this week.
Ms Hong emigrated from China in 2006 and has two daughters, aged three and seven.
She said she was overwhelmed and confused by the instructions and materials provided by her oldest daughter’s school.
“I was frustrated. I didn’t know how to apply those guidelines,” Ms Hong told the ABC.
“Compared to local parents, migrant parents have very little knowledge of the Australian primary and high school education system we have to spend extra time to learn it from scratch.”
She said migrant parents were “disadvantaged” when it came to the new online learning model.
“For many migrant parents, we are used to relying on schoolteachers and private tutoring; now we have to do it all ourselves,” she said.
“I know of some new migrant parents from a Chinese, Korean or Japanese background who are too shy to talk to the teachers, because they think their English is too bad.
“Asian parents are already very nervous and worry about if their children are falling behind.”
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Limited access to interpreters compounds struggle
Ahwazi refugee Hamideh Manish fled Khuzestan Province in south-western Iran in 2012, and is now living in Melbourne on a temporary protection visa.
A single mum, she had already struggled to learn the English language fast enough to help her 12-year-old daughter Raghad with her schoolwork.
She said it was especially hard now during the COVID-19 lockdown, as Raghad’s school had asked parents to assist their children switch to online learning.
“She needs somebody to help her to study and do her homework, but this is very hard for me to do,” MsManish told the ABC.
“She’s struggling to understand and finish her homework. I feel helpless and can’t help her due to the language difference.
“I fear I can’t keep up.”
With limited access to interpreters due to lockdown restrictions, MsManish helps as best she can, and asks for help from volunteers, but refugee services have been stretched to capacity.
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Still, she was grateful her daughter had access to a good education something that was harder to come by in some other countries.
“Education is important. It’s important for her future she needs somebody to help her to study, but this is very hard for me to do alone.”
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Jamil Bahruddin moved to Australia from Indonesia with his family in 2016 to pursue a postgraduate doctoral degree at the University of Melbourne.
He said he found it challenging to provide his children, a nine-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son, with a decent study space, and to meet the increased financial burdens that come with learning from home.
“As a scholarship recipient, I am only able to rent a moderate-sized house, while the school is urging us to provide a kind of special space that is adequate for the learning process at home,” Mr Bahruddin said.
“Schools at home that mostly use internet media will also automatically increase our spending due to the use of internet data.”
Mr Bahruddin has tried to take a creative approach to keep his children on track and stave off boredom.
To create a study atmosphere, he played the Australian national anthem earlier this week before classes started, in lieu of the school assembly that usually marks the opening day of term.
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Mr Bahruddin said he found it hard to teach his two children, who were used to speaking English at school.
“‘This is school, Dad, you have to speak English,'” he said, imitating his son Nararya.
“I am indeed having difficulty teaching certain subjects, like mathematics for example, in English because of the limited vocabulary that I have.
“Hopefully it doesn’t [affect our family dynamic] and they can see my efforts.”
‘Parents and carers are not expected to teach their children’
Mary Patetsos, chairperson of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), said migrant parents were less likely to have ideal infrastructure in place to assist learning from home.
“The general concern [is] that they might have less access to technologies, both hardware and software,” she said.
“We are not sure what availability there is in some homes for the software they need, also whether they are connected to the internet, whether they have wi-fi or computers at home for every child.”
The NSW Department of Education said in a statement that public schools had actively worked to provide additional devices to students, and loaned school devices where possible.
More than 4,200 devices, including computers, modems and 4G internet devices, on top of the devices loaned out by schools locally, had been provided by the Department at the end of term one.
The Department said more deliveries would be taking place across NSW at the start of term two, which begins on April 27.
“The Department recognises that for those families and parents from language backgrounds other than English there is the additional challenge of understanding the communications from their children’s schools,” a spokesperson said.
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The Department has developed advice on learning from home in 35 languages for parents and carers, the spokesman said, and the materials were available on the Learning From Home hub and the translated documents page on their website.
The free Translating and Interpreting Service is also available across Australia to assist parents and careers with enquires.
“The department will also be targeting community language radio broadcasters to advise communities from language backgrounds other than English of how to use Learning from Home resources,” the spokesperson said.
The Department of Education and Training Victoria said Victorian schools were “well prepared” to support students learning from home in term two, as well as children who will need to continue to attend school on-site.
“Parents are not expected to teach their children but can assist by providing a space for students to learn in as well as a consistent routine to support learning,” a spokesperson said.
The Department had also made learning from home information and resources available in 23 languages to support students and their families.
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