Community Scoop

Necessity driven innovation: the unexpected win from Covid

nicola-sutton-1websizeNicola Sutton  

Chief Executive | English Language Partners New Zealand

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, said Plato and we have found this to be true.

Our work is teaching English to adults and until March 25th this work was done in face-to-face classes. All across New Zealand, learners gathered with the purpose of improving their language skills so they could participate more effectively in daily life and settle well in New Zealand.

Access to technology and the internet, along with limited language and family responsibilities, are considerable barriers facing people from former refugee and migrant backgrounds. In the first week after lockdown started, over 500 of our learners were engaged in online classes and five weeks later this number had risen to 1,973. There were 285 classes meeting regularly and over 28,500 hours of English lessons had been attended by learners.

What made this a success? The teachers.

“The level of innovation by our teachers surpassed all expectation. The first lessons started the day after lockdown with teachers organising their own technology and phoning learners to tell them about classes and how to access them. All kinds of delivery started as we scrambled to provide training for our teams,” said Jo Leach, programmes manager at English Language Partners New Zealand (ELP).

Teachers innovated. They made it happen. Their commitment to the learners saw them get started, teach themselves, take up training opportunities, and learn through their and others mistakes. Teachers used a wide range of platforms, some they were familiar with and some learners were familiar with. In addition to this, ELP trained teachers to use Zoom and provided licences so they could access all the features.

Learners’ families and staff from ELP supported those learners who wanted to engage but did not have the skills. We were amazed at the number of older people and those with little or no literacy skills participating. And, for learners who could not access online learning, our teachers and other staff have supported them with regular phone calls.

Week by week classes have become more polished as everyone gets to grip with a new approach to teaching and teachers share what they are learning. Feedback from learners has also been positive.

ELP will look back on 2020 as the moment when a whole new way of delivering our services was birthed. We are excited by the possibilities. Learners can now choose to participate in face-to-face classes or join an online community; some might choose to do both.

Our vision, that former refugees and migrants can participate successfully in all aspects of life in Aotearoa, just got a massive boost.


This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

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