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UWC English Language Learning Support Conference

17 July 2017

Representatives from 13 UWC working together to support UWC students

UWC’s schools and colleges have deliberate diversity at the core of their education model, bringing together students from a wide variety of national, cultural and religious backgrounds. This diversity, while being key to the UWC experience, poses challenges when it comes to dealing with students who join a UWC school or college with no knowledge of English (which is the primary language across all UWC schools and colleges) or with very varied academic levels or schooling experiences disrupted through conflict or prosecution. Over the years, it has been identified that a student’s level of English upon arrival at a UWC school or college has great influence on self-esteem and social integration, as well as academic results. It was from this identified common challenge that representatives from 13 UWC gathered at UWC Atlantic College in mid-June 2017 for the UWC English Language Learning Support Conference, a joint initiative of UWC Atlantic College and UWC Maastricht. 
The organizers aimed to establish a unified UWC approach towards supporting our most vulnerable students. “If we are truly dedicated to fulfil our mission to make ‘education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future’, we must ensure that all efforts are made as early as possible to empower and enable every student to adequately access and enjoy their entire UWC experience.”

The conference was opened by Peter Howe, the new Head of UWC Atlantic College, and the keynote speaker, Dr. Marco Tamburelli, a Senior Lecturer in Bilingualism at the University of Bangor, Wales, who emphasized the importance of actively encouraging the use of mother-tongue while at UWC. 
Pastoral care was one of the focus areas as it was noted that the support for those learning English needs to go hand-in-hand with pastoral support systems. In the words of the organizers: “Learning can only take place when students feel comfortable and safe in their environment and can fully participate in our communities. Hence, it is of the utmost importance that every teacher, regardless of their subject area, takes full responsibility for fully catering to the language needs of English Language Learning (ELL) students and to shed the attitude held by some, that language acquisition is not the task of the subject teacher.”

Moeka Moeka Tsuzuki, a UWC Maastricht student, joined the conference as part of her Project Week.  She shared with the other participants her experience living and learning at UWC Maastricht during a presentation which included video testimonials of her co-years. “My student contribution was very well received”, she reported after the event. “The conference participants asked me a lot of questions and valued the student perspective. I received a lot of positive feedback which made me happy and satisfied.”

Apart from being a starting point for exchange and discussion, the Conference was also meant to provide a platform for staff members working in the field of English Language Learning Support to connect, identify areas in need of development and to create a unified action plan and strategy to establish a solid support structure across the UWC movement.” Angie Toppan, UWC Red Cross Nordic teacher, summarises the work ahead as follows “With the help of our newly formed network and a UWC Hub group space where we can share materials and ideas, we look forward to improving the support we offer to all students, not just those who are learning English.” Nikki Cooper, UWC Maastricht English Language Learning Coordinator and one of the organizers of the Conference, was satisfied with the outcome of the three days spent together: “This project has the potential to drive some fundamental changes across the movement, which is so inspiring!”. We thank UWC Atlantic College and UWC Maastricht for this initiative - and are looking forward to hearing more about this inspiring and important project which will positively impact the UWC experience of many students.