ONE in 20 children at school in the island now has a first language other than English.
A growing role of the Department of Education and Children is to offer bespoke support and encouragement to more than 600 children who are learning English as an additional language (EAL).
And the department is trying to put out the message that the international element in education can be beneficial.
Susan Rossouw, advisory teacher for EAL with the department, said: ‘We know that at least 40 different home languages are being used in island families with school age children.’
Some are newly arrived from non English-speaking countries and have little or no ability with the English language, or, if they are very young, even their own mother tongue.
Others are British-born but, prior to starting school, have grown up in a home where another language is predominant.
Children are also brought up to be bilingual (and sometime biliterate) in English and another language, so need a little assistance in classes where lessons are delivered solely in English.
Of the island’s 40 primary and secondary schools, 25 have pupils who require support with their learning to allow them to fully flourish.
Susan said: ‘The process of supporting children begins before they even start school. At a pre-admission meeting we share information to ensure that the first day of school is a happy and successful one.
‘We arrange for a child to have a buddy and, if possible, someone to be on hand who shares the child’s language. The induction is vital because children have to feel safe and happy before good learning can take place.’
She said: ‘After this, each child is supported according to their level of need, age and previous learning. After induction, there might be an period of “new to English” instruction but children are included in the mainstream straight away as the best way of learning is by joining in, enjoying activities and making friends to talk to and share with.’
Between them, Susan and the EAL team – Dale Fabic, Agnieska Garczynska and Maria Carolla – speak Tagalog, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
Two Douglas secondary schools have designated EAL teachers, Geraldine O’Neill at St Ninian’s and Kasia Kotze at Ballakermeen. Schools also boast staff trained in supporting new arrivals.
Every child with additional needs – not just children learning EAL – has an individual education plan.
Susan said: ‘With children learning EAL, it is initially managed with the assistance of the EAL team but it is not long before this becomes the class teacher’s role.’
She said EAL pupils could enhance life at schools, broadening learning opportunities for other children.
‘If a teacher can inform the class about a newcomer in advance, sharing information about the child’s language and culture and even learning some of the new language, this is valuable,’ she said. ‘Teachers might, for example, hold “No English” sessions where a class has to communicate only by sign or gesture, building empathy for a pupil who doesn’t know much English.
‘Being open to using different languages allows bridges to be built linguistically and it gives children the message that all languages are valuable assets.’
l At least 40 languages, in addition to English, are used among families living in the island with school age children.
These include: Afrikaans; Arabic; Bangla, sometimes called Bengali (Bangladesh); Bulgarian; Cantonese (Chinese); Czech; Dutch; Tagalog or other Filipino dialects such as Ilonggo (Philippines); French; Gaelic or Irish Gaelic; German; Greek; Hebrew; Hindi; Hungarian; Icelandic (Õslenska); Italian; Japanese; Korean; Latvian; Lithuanian; Luvenda (Venda, South Africa); Malayalam (southern India); Mandarin (Chinese); Manx Gaelic; Pashto (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India and a number of other countries); Pijin (Solomon Islands); Polish; Portuguese; Romanian; Russian; Shona (Zimbabwe and Zambia); Slovak (Slovakia); Spanish; Swahili (West Africa – pupils from Zanzibar); Swedish; Tamil (Sri Lanka); Thai; Urdu (spoken mainly in Pakistan and India); Welsh.