English for Swimming program extends its reach

By Fiona West | December 9, 2021

An award-winning Sydney program for migrants and refugees that combines learning English with swimming lessons has now been turned into a teaching resource that will be shared widely across Australia to help reduce drownings.

After successfully running the English for Swimming program in South West Sydney for the past two years, Navitas Skilled Futures has produced the interactive book to be distributed free to other adult education providers in the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community, in time for summer. The book was launched on Thursday 9 December at Auburn Swim Centre, Lidcombe, and attended by Auburn MP Lynda Voltz and representatives from organisations including STARTTS, CORE CS, South West Local Health District and Royal Life Saving.

Navitas hopes the English for Swimming comprehensive resource will empower more adults from CALD backgrounds with new skills and water confidence, and ultimately help reduce the number of drowning deaths among this statistically over-represented group.

As a Surf Life Saver, AUSTSWIM qualified instructor, ESL teacher and Navitas Skilled Futures learning designer, Michelle Cowans, has been perfectly placed to run the English for Swimming program at Navitas, which has colleges in Sydney’s South West and the ACT. But she said putting her knowledge into a book, with suggested lessons, links to instructional and virtual reality videos and flash cards, meant the program could now be easily adopted by others.

“All you really need is a pool and instructors, and the program could be run anywhere,” she said.

(L-R) Program participant Haiping Huang, Navitas Learning Designer Michelle Cowans, GM Jetinder Macfarlane, Auburn MP Lynda Voltz, Sarika Biswas and Salma Meher Aieshee.

Navitas Skilled Futures General Manager Jetinder Macfarlane said it was a privilege to be able to wear the cost of this project on behalf of educators across Australia, if it helped to share the joy of swimming with those in CALD communities and, more importantly, saved lives.

“At Navitas Skilled Futures we absolutely have no hesitation in sharing this program with whomever wants to run it because it is so important that students who want to learn these skills have access to them,” Ms Macfarlane said.

“For many people, swimming at the beach or pool is part of the Australian culture and lifestyle. From our experience we know that many adult migrants who never had the opportunity to learn to swim miss out on this experience for themselves and their families.

“This program breaks down the barriers and the fear, while helping participants improve their English language skills.”

Michelle, who lives in Sydney’s East and swims almost every day, created the English for Swimming program for Navitas students after they showed a keen interest to learn and management showed strong support.

“This program was never about turning people into great swimmers,” Michelle says.

“The aim, more than anything, is for students to be able to feel they can go into the water and have a splish-splash without drowning.”

Navitas has now run the English for Swimming program over three terms for female students, in partnership with Different Strokes Swimming, a Sydney-based learn-to-swim school solely for adults. The program, which was highly commended in the 2020 NSW Humanitarian Awards, is the first of its kind in combining English language skills, games in the classroom and virtual reality with the use of technology-enhanced learning and physical swimming lessons.

Common program outcomes include feeling confident in the water, knowing how to save someone who is in trouble, being comfortable in the deep end, being able to tread water and, of course, improving English.

“Some of the softer more unexpected outcomes are an increased sense of mental wellbeing, increased confidence, happiness in forming a community as well as being part of something that is quite special,” Michelle added.

Program participant Salma Meher Aieshee spoke at the launch, saying the English for Swimming program helped her overcome her water phobia, was good fun and actually led to a job.

“I know lots of migrants who don’t know how to swim,” she said.

“It’s hard to manage time to learn swimming when you are adult, it’s also terrifying. I was terrified too because I had water phobia … but after 10 classes I started loving water. I am still learning swimming and have a long way to go but I can do it and it is fun.

“I also got my first job through this class! The other instructor Kari was looking for an admin assistant for her businesses and I got the opportunity to work there!”


Download the FREE resource here.

Contact us to find out more about the program and resource here.

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