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However, we do need to be extremely sensitive and supportive. Many ESOL and literacy learners are vulnerable, asylum-seekers and refugees, victims of horrific rape, domestic violence and many types of abuse. We can choose to focus only on happy, light topics in the classroom to try to help them forget all this. But then they may be asked about their family or their past in, for example, a job interview, or speaking assessment, and finally have to confront their experience, alone, in a stressful situation.

Or we can choose to bring potentially problematic topics into the classroom and make the group a sensitive, supportive place to share problems, past and present. This may help some learners come to terms with some of the issues in their past, and it may help them understand each other more and even want to help others in the same situation. Not all of them will be ready to share their stories at first. And we must be prepared to accept emotion, tears, and interruptions to our planned sequence of tasks in the lesson. We may need to spend a little extra time with them, referring them to other types of professional support if necessary. I feel these emotions I have been privileged to share with learners have helped me to understand them and their background more. The more I have felt able to open up as a genuine person with my own opinions, the more I have got to know them as real people too.

Not all the articles about global justice are negative, of course. There are stories about people in Norway making a circle of hope around the mosque to stand together for religious freedom; stories of indigenous peoples winning the fight against massive multinational mining companies to protect their land; stories about recycling and community spirit in hardship; and the very positive and hopeful fact of simply raising awareness of the secrets that many in the world hoped to keep: child labour, modern slavery, environmental destruction by big business and insidious corporate control of food, banking and health.

And in this hope, we can develop a voice in the learner. Of course we ought to link lessons and learning to the workplace, and link literacy lessons to vocational areas, but there are only so many phone messages or formal letters to order work materials you can write.

Paulo Freire talks about inspiring and empowering learners to participate, using literacy and language teaching to allow learners to develop their voice and have an effect (Freire Institute, 2015). Using global justice topics, we can inspire learners above and beyond the workplace e.g. Functional Skills learners on a Childcare course to encourage children to protect the planet; Electrical Installation students to get interested in renewable energy, debating the pros and cons of multinationals developing solar farms in the Sahara; literacy groups studying Health and Social Care to compare health systems across the world and the imbalance of power in organ donations; and Accounts students to look at cooperatives, global debt and whether there should be a maximum wage.

If we help develop in learners the idea that action works, that people power can fight for and achieve lasting benefits, we can maybe give them more control over their own future. We can also encourage learners to get involved in local community issues or our national battles for more funding for Further Education. And this may increase their feeling of self-worth and ability to change and affect life around them.


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