“Give me a path to follow”: A Deweyan inquiry into training volunteer EAL tutors of adult refugees

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Advisor

Catherine Ferguson

Second Advisor

Lily Taylor

Third Advisor

Margaret Merga


Volunteer English as an additional language (EAL) tutors working through adult community education (ACE) organisations play a key role in the development of adult refugee literacy and language skills in Australia. There are few requirements to work as an EAL volunteer tutor (VT), other than fluency in English. Yet refugee learners are known to have complex learning problems potentially resulting from their pre-migratory experiences. However, as the ACE sector is unregulated, provision for training VTs is uncoordinated, with many VTs receiving little or no training. Available training has largely been found to be ineffective and to support ideologies that potentially disempower refugees. As a consequence of inadequate training, VTs may be unprepared to understand or meet the needs of their refugee learners. This impacts on VT practices and motivation as well as refugee learning outcomes and settlement experiences. To date there has been very little research investigating how to support the learning and teaching of VTs through training or the impact of training on VT thinking and behaviour. Research reported herein investigates the impact of implementing a contextualised training program for VTs, considering both its impact on tutor thinking and behaviour, and its appropriateness for the learning community. A Deweyan pragmatic inquiry was conducted, using a mixed-methods approach to collect and analyse data in the form of interviews, questionnaires and focus groups. Participants were volunteer EAL tutors working in ACE organisations in the Perth metropolitan area. Interview data were used to design a training program using a transformative instructional approach. The training program was evaluated using sequenced questionnaires and a focus group. Data were analysed using a feminist-poststructuralist lens. This research investigated the roles that both the content taught, and the strategies used to implement the training program played in changing tutor thinking and behaviour. The appropriateness of the training program content was investigated through the interviews and the focus group. Findings suggest that EAL VTs who teach refugees and asylum seekers may face many challenges due to a poverty of knowledge and skills. Additionally, organisations may struggle to meet the needs of their refugee learners, due to a lack of funding and unawareness of culturally and educationally appropriate practices for teaching refugees. Though this investigation was limited in scale the results suggest that training VTs in andragogic, culturally responsive, critical and educationally up-to-date practices for teaching EAL and literacy, and using a contextualised approach to planning training can lead to positive changes in VTs’ thinking and behaviour, potentially benefiting their learners. This research has implications for ACE organisations interested in supporting volunteer learning and teaching, and in promoting equitable and democratic refugee education.


Author also known as Maria Enriquez-Watt

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