Just one thing…to improve your EAL practice: Know where your pupils are from.

Why is it important to know a child’s background?

Indeed, is it important to know this?

The simple answer is yes.

The reasons for this are multiple.

To begin with, it’s important to know which country, and therefore, which region of the world a new pupil is from. 

At a training session, a teacher asked a question around special needs.  Should a pupil in the early stages of learning English be flagged up as possibly SEN after eight months in school?

Before responding, the trainer wanted to know where the child was from and what languages they spoke. The teacher laughed nervously and said, “Africa”. She then turned to a colleague who obligingly suggested the family’s language could be Igbo.  

According to Harvard University 1, Africa has over 75 languages spoken by over 1 million people. The total number of languages across the continent lies between 1k and 2k.

Therefore, knowing the country of origin of a new child from Africa helps narrow down the playing field when speculating what language(s) they might speak. The alternative to speculation is to ask the child’s parents or guardian of course. Failing that, there’s always Google.

If we don’t know where a child is from other than ‘The Middle East’ or ‘Africa’, how can we adapt the curriculum to include them?

By lumping all African children into an homogenous mass, we immediately overlook the rich and vast cultural, linguistic, economic, historical and geographical differences a child from Rwanda might have compared to a pupil from Egypt.

One size does not fit all. Teachers can’t be founts of all knowledge, that’s true. But they can show compassion and interest in their children by at least finding out and acknowledging where on Earth they are from.

This knowledge helps to provide context to a pupil’s journey. If a school records a family’s homeland as Syria or Ukraine or Afghanistan, teachers immediately have some notion of what children might have experienced from the vast news coverage. 

If a child is from Nigeria, what’s their back story? If they’ve come from Somalia via the Netherlands, what have they experienced and discovered about the world?

It’s important to know our pupils’ backgrounds. It’s important to recognise and acknowledge where they and their families have come from. With this knowledge we can be more sympathetic if not empathetic.

We can choose literacy texts that might reflect their culture.

We can display ‘Hello’ or ‘Welcome’ in their languages as a bare minimum.

We can make them feel welcome and included in our classrooms by our actions and interest in them.

1Harvard University

https://alp.fas.harvard.edu › introduction-african-languages