I was recently working on a research project looking into the Somali people's experience of living in Europe. The research focused on enhancing current social policies so we looked into all sectors of public life and institutions and it was breathtaking to observe the frustrations that the people faced but also how remarkably ambitious people were. What caught my attention particularly was how an increasing number of the older generation was employed and harboured great ambitions despite each one of them having an average of 6-7 children in addition to looking after parents and other elderly relatives. Quite a few of them were near retirement age but still possessed a zest for life and an appetite to work.
There was also an immense diversity in the disciplines and career aspirations of the youth moving away from the traditionally pursued areas of medicine, law, computing and engineering. Many of these youth have been raised on income benefits and haven't had the privileges that are often exposed to their peers but they still finished their schools with top marks. This really infused a great deal of hope in me of what the future might bring.
But there are some stark challenges that lie ahead and a common thread among most people we spoke to trickled down to language barriers. The main problem with the current ESOL system is that it is designed in a 'one-size-fits-all' kind of way. This means people coming from an academic background or have professional skills that just need to learn the language are sitting in the same class as people from an unskilled background. The two clearly can't learn at the same speed nor do they have the same comprehension level so the teaching becomes prolonged, tedious and eventually, fruitless. If any tangible progress is sought from these classes, they really need to reform and tailor to the needs of the students more acutely.
Many Somalis who have studied in the countries they have moved from find themselves in this ESOL rut and end up doing menial work that don't require much English. The language barrier also affects them when it comes to accessing public services whether it is going to the GP, dealing with their children's schools, sorting out housing issues or liaising with the local council.It is important that the ESOL issues in the UK is addressed but I also feel that the people need to make a greater effort themselves to overcome these challenges. The Somali diaspora have demonstrated the valuable contribution they can make through their efforts towards Somalia but this needs to be done in parallel to striving to become an integral part of the local society here in the UK. This is particularly important for the upcoming youth who have shown remarkable potential but they need a leadership that can steer them to achieve that potential. The adults therefore need to become the role models that their children can aspire to be like.