“In the current Europe of ageing society and facing employment and immigration problems, TLC Pack offers concrete solutions to our fast changing reality,” says Aleksandra Sikorska, coordinator of the winning Grundtvig Award project.
The initiative, funded with the support of the EU Lifelong Learning Programme and coordinated by the Volkshichschule im Landkreis Cham e.V., addressed an acute problem: the demographic change goes hand in hand with a need for migrant caregivers, who sometimes lack all the necessary skills.
A quick look at the statistics shows that the numbers of migrant workers in the sector are high indeed. Caritas estimates that in 2014 alone, there were as many as 180 000 foreign employees in the German health system.
“Public and private institutions must respond to the huge growth in health care and age care service industries,” explains Aleksandra. “Many of the caregivers working in these sectors are foreign, untrained and lacking the necessary language skills.”
To respond to migrants’ language needs, the project consortium developed an online multilingual learning platform. It includes six units on topics that are particularly important in the caregiving sector, such as nutrition, medication and post-hospital care. Each of the units includes videos, exercises, vocabulary, grammar and a self-assessment test.
Aleksandra admits that compiling the materials was far from easy and sometimes required support from experts working in the health care sector. “We had to make sure that they reflect real working situations and daily used language. We also needed to adapt the language learning resources to the various language levels of the learners,” she clarifies.
Spotlight on culture
That said, migrants’ learning needs often go beyond language aspects, and the project had to address it as well. “Important also is their understanding of the host countries’ laws and culture,” Aleksandra specifies.
Cultural sensitivity is key in a profession that relies so heavily on interpersonal relations. As caregiver’s tasks are related to aging, illness, hygiene, daily living, activities inside and outside of the home, it intersects many cultural conventions, sometimes challenging the beliefs and attitudes held by the migrant.
This is why the partnership, which included six countries, offered learners a practical tool to develop migrants’ intercultural competences.
“Within the project each partner country created a specific intercultural package,” explains Aleksandra. “It focuses not only on typical social and cultural behaviours, food and habits, but also on various views related to the topics: health, death, age and how these views are different in some European countries.”
These country-specific differences were also a source of challenges during the project development.
“Some researches and interviews with experts (language teachers, migrant learners) revealed a multifaceted image of language teaching for migrants,” Aleksandra tells EAEA. “It differs not only from country to country, but has various forms within the same country as well. This created a challenge to develop the learning materials for migrant learners which fulfil the expectations and needs of learners and language teachers in adult and vocational education in various countries.”
Implementation is key
Speaking at the EAEA General Assembly in June, when the project was drawing to a close, Aleksandra highlighted that the consortium wanted to not only create the materials, but also to see their implementation. Two months later the objective seems to have been reached. Aside from being available on the learning platform for self-study, the materials have been included in curricula of certain adult education institutions in Europe.
“In Germany, the Health Academy of Eastern Bavaria introduced the teaching materials of the project to the courses for caregivers,” says Aleksandra. “In Belgium, the University of Antwerp, Linguapolis uses specific parts of the TLC Pack, for example the intercultural unit, in Dutch courses.”
VHS Cham makes active use of the materials when teaching German classes for migrants learners. Starting from 2017, the organization will also offer in-service training courses on occupational specific language teaching for language teachers.
As the outcomes continue to be used beyond the project lifetime, Aleksandra is positive about learning opportunities for migrant caregivers.
“The person working in the health care sector, especially with migration background, can improve the linguistic skills and be aware of intercultural differences,” she says.
These competences are of extreme importance when working abroad, but Aleksandra adds one more aspect that is always needed. “The most important in the context of working life is to have a passion for the work and to like other people and oneself,” she concludes.
The project: TLC Pack
- Volkshochschule im Landkreis Cham (coordinator), Germany
- ASEV (Agenziaperlo Sviluppo Empolese Valdelsa), Italy
- IDEC (AINTEK A.E.), Greece
- IFI (Instituto de Formación Integral, S.L.U.), Spain
- LEAP (Language Education & Partnerships Ltd), UK
- Linguapolis (University of Antwerp), Belgium
Text: Aleksandra KozyraPhotos: Helka Repo, TLC Pack consortium