Reforms prove ‘life changing’ for AMEP students
Two years after historic reforms to the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), Navitas Skilled Futures students are reaping the rewards, with improved English and digital skills and, with it, better life, work and educational opportunities.
The Australian Government AMEP reforms, which came into effect on 19 April, 2021, removed a 510-hour time limit on tuition for AMEP students, enabling eligible students to continue to vocational English levels and others, who had previously left the program, to return. The reforms also removed the five-year time limit for enrolling, commencing and completing English tuition for eligible visa holders who arrived in Australia on or before 1 October 2020.
As a result many students have returned to the AMEP at Navitas, while hundreds more have been able to continue English classes where they would otherwise have had to leave.
Navitas Skilled Futures Bankstown is just one college that has seen a “dramatic increase in students who stay on or return” in the past two years, according to Academic Team Leader Aaron Caulfield.
“Previously with only 510 hours, if you were a full time student this would only be two-and-a-half terms. This is not a lot of time to improve your English skills, especially if you have settlement barriers, employment barriers, childcare barriers, no prior exposure to formal learning, and/or torture and trauma experience,” he said.
“But now we have seen students who arrived not even knowing how to hold a pen go on to be able to interact in the wider Australian society on their own. They can make friends, go shopping, take their kids to school, see a doctor, use public transport – this independence and confidence is life changing.”
“Also, those who stay on or return usually tend to take advantage of AMEP plus one of our specialised courses, such as Citizenship, computer skills, driving and IELTS.”
Mehdrad, from Iran, says removing the time limit was essential for him, as it allowed him to grow not only in language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills, but also confidence, which he didn’t have before.
“It has helped me too much – my listening, reading, writing, speaking, all have improvements,” Mehdrad said.
“When I came here I didn’t speak English. I didn’t even know what’s the ABC. In Iran, I just leave there from school, I didn’t study, so I had a lot to learn.”
With the additional hours Mehdrad had improved so much that he even volunteered to speak on stage at a 2021 Refugee Week community event in Bankstown about his own settlement story.
“Honestly at that time, I did this to challenge myself. I said, ‘How can I do this? How can I handle this speech?’ But I did. I could not do this before but Navitas has helped me so much.
Mehdrad now dreams of opening a family business in Bankstown – a coffee shop or a Persian restaurant.
“I was thinking, if my family came here, I would open a family business so I need good English, I need to improve my English for business. Here I can do it. The teachers are so nice, they help me so much, they are like family. I am so happy here.”
When Nashwa arrived from Sudan in 2017 she started the AMEP straight away but then stopped because she was expecting her fourth child. Now with her fifth child aged four, and due to the reforms, she had the opportunity to return, using free onsite childcare for her youngest three days a week.
“I need more English,” she said.
“They (the children) all speak well now, except me. When I came to Australia I worry about the children because if he wants to go to the toilet or something he won’t know how to say it. But now I don’t worry anymore about them, I worry about me. But I do my best to learn.”
Nashwa said as well as improving her English, she appreciated the support she received at Navitas, such as the AMEP Pathway Guidance Advisor, who provides advice and links to other services and information.
Fellow mum and classmate Thuan arrived from Vietnam in 2018 with her husband and four children, said having no limit on the hours had taken the pressure off and helped her learn at her own pace.
“English language is important. It helps me to talk to others and communicate,” she said.
“I could not do it in 510 hours. My English improves every day and before I could not speak English to others because I was always scared and now I am confident.”
“My talking has improved. When I can speak English fluently I can get job and teach my children and communicate to others.
“Now I’m really enjoying my time in Navitas. I can meet many people from many countries and we can all speak to each other in English.”
Adala, who cares for her sister and studies at Navitas two days a week, said she spoke no English at all when she came to Australia three years ago from Iraq.
“Now I use English in the bank, in the hospital, outside, everywhere,” she said.
“Some people speak Arabic here but not all the places and in Australia it is English and I should learn that. Also I hope to continue my education and do a TAFE course. I want to do sewing, which I did before in Iraq but I need English to do the course and for a job so I can speak to people at work.”
Since April 2021 Navitas Skilled Futures has promoted the AMEP reforms through media and digital advertising as well as emails, SMS campaigns and shopping centre information stalls.
But Aaron Caulfield said it was possible some people didn’t realise it applied to them, or they were nervous to return.
“There is nothing to be nervous about,” he said. “We will support you through your whole journey.
“We have friendly faces at reception, usually who can speak your language, we have highly qualified passionate teachers who listen to your specific needs and teach you what you need to know, we also have excellent support staff such as our Pathway Guidance Advisor who can help you access any referrals you might need and who will introduce you to new friends and make you experience with us special.”
“You will also meet other students who are just like you – you will grow your support network and make lifelong friends. Our current students say that Navitas is their ‘second family’.”
Navitas Skilled Futures currently delivers the AMEP in Bankstown, Cabramatta, Campbelltown, Canberra, Fairfield, Liverpool. For more information about our courses see https://navitas-skilled-futures.com.au/courses-and-programs/learn-english-amep/.
The AMEP is funded by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs.