English language bar for citizenship likely to further disadvantage refugees

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has proposed tougher language requirements for new citizenship applicants.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Sally Baker, University of Newcastle and Rachel Burke, University of Newcastle

Citizenship applicants will need to demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency if the government’s proposed changes to the Australian citizenship test go ahead.

Applicants will be required to reach the equivalent of Band 6 proficiency of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

To achieve Band 6, applicants must correctly answer 30 out of 40 questions in the reading paper, 23 out of 40 in the listening paper, and the writing paper rewards language used “accurately and appropriately”. If a candidate’s writing has “frequent” inaccuracies in grammar and spelling, they cannot achieve Band 6

Success in IELTS requires proficiency in both the English language, and also understanding how to take – and pass – a test. The proposed changes will then make it harder for people with fragmented educational backgrounds to become citizens, such as many refugees.

How do the tests currently work?

The current citizenship test consists of 20 multiple-choice questions in English concerning Australia’s political system, history, and citizen responsibilities.

While the test does not require demonstration of English proficiency per se, it acts as an indirect assessment of language.

For example, the question: “Which official symbol of Australia identifies Commonwealth property?” demonstrates the level of linguistic complexity required.

The IELTS test is commonly taken for immigration purposes as a requirement for certain visa categories; however, the designer of IELTS argues that IELTS was never designed for this purpose. Researchers have argued that the growing strength of English as the language of politics and economics has resulted in its widespread use for immigration purposes.

Impact of proposed changes

English is undoubtedly important for participation in society, but deciding citizenship based on a high-stakes language test could further marginalise community members, such as people with refugee backgrounds who have the greatest need for citizenship, yet lack the formal educational background to navigate such tests.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues that adults with refugee backgrounds will be hardest hit by the proposed language test.

Data shows that refugees are both more likely to apply for citizenship, and twice as likely as other migrant groups to have to retake the test.

Mismatched proficiency expectations

The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), where many adult refugees access English learning upon arrival, expects only a “functional” level of language proficiency.

For many adult refugees – who have minimal first language literacy, fragmented educational experiences, and limited opportunities to gain feedback on their written English – “competency” may be prohibitive to gaining citizenship. This is also more likely to impact refugee women, who are less likely to have had formal schooling and more likely to assume caring duties.

Bar too high?

The challenges faced in re/settlement contexts, such as pressures of work and financial responsibilities to extended family, often combine to make learning a language difficult, and by extension,
prevent refugees from completing the citizenship test.

Similar patterns are evident with IELTS. Nearly half of Arabic speakers who took the IELTS in 2015 scored lower than Band 6.

There are a number of questions to clarify regarding the proposed language proficiency test:

  • Will those dealing with trauma-related experiences gain exemption from a high-stakes, time-pressured examination?
  • What support mechanisms will be provided to assist applicants to study for the test?
  • Will financially-disadvantaged members of the community be expected to pay for classes/ materials in order to prepare for the citizenship test?
  • The IELTS test costs A$330, with no subsidies available. Will the IELTS-based citizenship/ language test attract similar fees?

There are also questions about the fairness of requiring applicants to demonstrate a specific type and level of English under examination conditions that is not required of all citizens. Those born in Australia are not required to pass an academic test of language in order to retain their citizenship.

Recognising diversity of experiences

There are a few things the government should consider before introducing a language test:

1) Community consultation is essential. Input from community/ migrant groups, educators, and language assessment specialists will ensure the test functions as a valid evaluation of progression towards English language proficiency. The government is currently calling for submissions related to the new citizenship test.

2) Design the test to value different forms and varieties of English that demonstrate progression in learning rather than adherence to prescriptive standards.

3) Provide educational opportunities that build on existing linguistic strengths that help people to prepare for the test.

The ConversationEquating a particular type of language proficiency with a commitment to Australian citizenship is a complex and ideologically-loaded notion. The government must engage in careful consideration before potentially further disadvantaging those most in need of citizenship.

Sally Baker, Research Associate, Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education, University of Newcastle and Rachel Burke, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The ever so popular Focus on IELTS New Edition Review

This New Edition Focus on IELTS book outsells all other IELTS books combined all over the world and is usually in the BEBC top 10 best-sellers every month.focus-on-ielts

IELTS is the worlds most popular International Exam, and this book has everything, keeping its popular topic based approach plus new material aimed at helping students succeed in their future studies.

With its increased focus on academic skills, this updated version of Focus on IELTS not only prepares students for the IELTS examination but also equips them with the tools that they need for success once they enter academic life. Focus on IELTS new edition maintains its popular topic based approach but has been thoroughly revised and now contains new material including sections on academic vocabulary and style, critical thinking and reflective learning. There is thorough exam skills training and graded practice to help students’ pass the exam.

• New Critical Thinking and Reflective Learning training helps students become more analytical and therefore more effective as learners.
• New Academic Vocabulary sections systematically build up students’ knowledge of the all-important Academic Word List.
• New Academic Style sections focus on key aspects of academic English, and develop students’ ability to achieve an appropriately formal style.
• The Key Language Bank provides a reference tool and extra practice activities to help students build their vocabulary and knowledge of grammar.
• An expanded Writing Practice Bank provides model answers and additional writing practice for both Tasks 1 and 2.
• Error Hit Lists help students eliminate common errors from their work.
• Additional exam practice is available on the interactive iTest on the CD-ROM.

Focus on IELTS New Edition Reviews:

This book is probably best used in a class, but might help self-study too. Behind the trite TEFL unit headings (`A sporting chance’, `It goes with the job’, `Family values’, etc.), there are plenty of topics that should keep students interested, such as animal rights, the environment, architecture, smoking, the Internet and mobile phones. The text is clear, bright and attractively laid out. Photos, illustrations and diagrams all look sharp, modern and dynamic. In some course books, visuals can dominate or confuse the text. Not here. It’s as easy on the patience as it is on the eye. The supplementary materials at the back are very good, including an academic word list, writing practices, and a great grammar guide.

I teach IELTS and simply don’t have time to prepare every lesson from scratch, so I found this textbook very useful. It’s clearly laid out with interesting subjects and appropriate visuals. I also found it very focused towards the exam with lots of exercises practising essential skills such as skimming and scanning, recording key academic vocabulary etc.

Focus on IELTS has long been a popular choice for teachers and it’s easy to see why. There’s a good balance between authentic Academic IELTS test items and meaningful group exercises, while the inclusion of a grammar reference guide and extra writing practice make this a solid friend for classroom use. The new edition corrects most of the mistakes in the first edition and adds more EAP elements such as critical thinking and reflective learning. One remaining drawback is the lack of a version with full answer key and scripts. Also available in a Foundation edition that introduces test practice more gradually. Rating 9/10

About the Author
Sue O’Connell
Sue O’Connell has a degree in English language and literature from the University of Bristol and an MA in Anglo Irish Studies from University College, Dublin. She has worked as a teacher and teacher trainer both in the UK and overseas. She was a Cambridge examiner and item writer for many years, and has also taught and examined candidates for the IELTS test. Sue is the author of the Pearson Focus series, which includes Focus on IELTS Foundation and the best-selling Focus on IELTS new edition.
The Test Format

There are four sub-tests, or modules, to the IELTS test: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Students must sit all four sub-tests. While all students take the same Listening and Speaking tests, they sit different Reading and Writing tests, depending on whether they have selected the Academic IELTS test or the General Training IELTS test.
If your interested in Focus on IELTS New Edition, and would like to receive an efficient, well-informed and friendly service, click on this link to be directed to our Focus on IELTS New Edition webpage here @ https://www.bebc.co.uk/focus-on-ielts-upper-intermediate-coursebook-new-edition-with-itestcom-cd/9781408241363/