As part of NIACE’s blog series to mark Black History Month, Rachael Ng’andwe – a 2013 Adult Learners’ Week award winner – is sharing her story. Rachael is a Women’s Project Coordinator atLeicestershire AIDS Support Services, working with HIV positive women to educate and empower them through training and other opportunities.
Tell me a bit about yourself and early years.
I was born in Lusaka, Zambia. I grew up there and attended primary school through to college, where I studied Travel and Tourism. I qualified as a travel consultant, which is what I did for a living in Zambia before I came to the UK. Since coming to England in 1997 I haven’t been back. It’s been difficult being away- part of it has been immigration and it was not possible until a couple of years ago.
What are you doing now?
I’m a single mum to an 8 year old beautiful daughter. Her dad passed away in 2009 and I have been on my own raising her as a single parent, which takes up a lot of my time as I‘m very hands on. I’m also currently enrolled in a Level 2 Diploma in Health and Social Care Course – which started September 2013.
What inspired you to get involved in learning and education?
Originally, I gave my time up for volunteering as I wasn’t allowed to work due to my immigration status. Through that, I got involved in the training opportunities available for volunteers.
My love for working with people still carried on and having left my job where I did IT with the travel consultancy job, but I didn’t get a chance to practice since I moved here. I knew I needed to do something, so with the help of the Lass the voluntary organisation I was attached with I took the ICT Level 2 and passed.
I then took every opportunity that came along, instead of being idle at home. I just got lost in studying while volunteering and this gave me a break from other personal problems.
I was also involved in family learning classes at my daughter’s school. I did maths Level 1 and went on to do Level 2 with Leicester College. I knew that I needed to improve my maths to be able to help my daughter with her homework.
Were you faced with any barriers and if so, how did you overcome them?
I had barriers getting into mainstream education because I didn’t have the right immigration status. Although being a voluntary sector, Leicestershire AIDS Support Services (LASS) provided me with the opportunity to learn and created a platform for me to use my learning. Even after obtaining my leave to remain in the United Kingdom, getting into university has not been easy because of the conditions on my status. I like many others whom I have come across, still struggle to meet up with financial demands to get into higher education. Passion is there but the reality always knocks us down and leaves us with the option to only do short college courses.
What was particularly helpful in supporting you to progress and achieve?
The management at LASS, in particular the CEO Jenny Hand and my line manager Juliet kisob. They have been there with me pushing me to achieve. They saw the potential which I did not see in myself to go for bigger things –they were my backbone and all that I had. I have close friends who have supported me in my journey to achieve better for me and my daughter.
What impact has winning an Adult Learners’ Week this year had on you?
It’s had a huge impact on me, especially with the women I work with. They see me in that position from the picture on my desk and they ask me questions like “How do I get onto a course? How can I get such an opportunity?” I see a change in them and they want to do better for themselves.
My daughter is also very proud of me. She asked me, “Mummy did you graduate?”
With significant strides in race equality over the last 30 years, what do you think the barriers for BAME learners are today?
It depends on where you go, but language is still a barrier when it comes to learning. If you don’t have English how will you understand the person who is teaching you? Without 1:1 support learning is very hard for people whose first language is not English.
It’s the same for children – language is a problem and they need extra support to achieve in class.
Refugees and asylum seekers also face barriers as there is stigma attached to them. I experience this myself – people look down on you because you apply to stay in the country on these grounds. They don’t see your potential – they only see the status so you always have to challenge and speak out or get taken for granted.
I also feel that the welfare cuts have hit people in a big way – women didn’t need to work in the same way before, but the cuts will mean everyone has to work and no more stay-at-home mums.
For some it will be very hard especially if they have not worked before. Where do they start and who is there to support them? Until there are some changes in the way the system works, this will remain a problem in our society.
I still believe the Equality Act has created more opportunities for BAME background. People just need to be empowered to challenge inequality when things are not right.
We know that there are significant differences between particular groups and sub-groups of minority ethnic learners. What can practitioners and providers do to support them?
Black learners sometimes have to do extra to get the same credit as other learners. The expectation from black learners is higher because their proficiency levels are not recognised – this is a barrier because they have to achieve exceptionally high grades in order to compete on the same market level. There will always be a gap in achievement between ethnic groups until they change the criteria in which enrolment and provision of educational materials is awarded to individuals regardless of ethnic back ground.
What would you like to see changing over the next 30 years for BAME learners and what role do you want to play in that?
Provision of a wide range of courses for different skills to match the employment requirements should be offered to BAME on quota basis. We should learn from what skills people are bringing into the country and increase the variety. I also think people should be afforded a future based on their capability – not on their status. Too many highly qualified people come to this country and end up stacking boxes in factories.
Organisations such as accounting firms that offer different routes into tertiary education such as articles should open this route to all individuals especially the BAME communities. Apprentiship courses should be offered to BAME communities at level 5 and 6 for those exiting secondary school educations.
How do you see your role as a BAME learner and the impact this may have on BAME learners, aspiring leaders and the wider community?
First and foremost – for single mums; be a role model giving hope to achieve anything you want to achieve. I want to be an advocate for under achievers by signposting them to relevant agencies and inspiring them to have a sense of self belief. My role as a BAME learner should inspire aspiring leaders and the wider community to engage in learning regardless of age, gender and ethnicity.
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