Introducing ICT to Asylum Seeker and Refugee Women

Introducing ICT to Asylum Seeker and Refugee Women

This year I had the privilege of introducing a small group of asylum seeking and refugee women to ICT skills for the first time. These ladies have had little or no experience with using laptops or computers and were desperate to learn. Some of them had very little English and low literacy (zero beginners) and others could read and write quite well (Entry 1+). None of these ladies knew anything about computers and had not had the opportunity to learn before- they may have spent years living in a refugee camp or been denied access to ICT education. None of these ladies had an e-mail address, but they were desperate to have one and learn how to use it!

First of all, we started the classes by learning basic computer skills and how to type. My students were used to do everything with one finger on their phones, so they tried typing everything with just their index finger (this proved quite time consuming). I was able to introduce them to the website Typing Club and show them simple ways of using upper and lower case letters (which don’t exist in their languages).

I was also able to teach my students basic computer vocabulary words (e.g. mouse, enter, click etc.) and show them how to do simple actions such as copying and pasting and saving their work. The websites and have some great computer flash cards and English-Arabic ICT worksheets.


Next, I encouraged my students to practise typing simple things like the alphabet and simple information about themselves. I introduced them to Microsoft Word and showed them how to change fonts, the size of their text and use spell check. A lot of my Arabic speaking students struggled with using the space bar, as they were not used to separating words in English. They also struggled with the fact that the Qwerty Keyboard is in capital letters, but the words appeared in the lower case on the screen. Also confusingly, the capital ‘I’ looked like the small case ‘l’ and the letter ‘a’ looked nothing like the written version. For my learners who had little literacy in their first language and English, this might have been really challenging!

When my students had grasped the basics, I was then able to introduce them to e-mails. A few of my students had been given a Google account by the Job Centre and other refugee organisations, so to avoid confusion; I decided to show them how to use a Microsoft Outlook account. I created a pictorial worksheet, with step-by-step instructions for how to register and how to log-on. I also told my students I could only make them an account if they had their mobile phones with them, as they were needed to verify the e-mail account. I was also fortunate to have an Arabic speaking colleague, who was able to translate instructions for me and find out information such as my students’ dates of birth. It was a slow process, but over a few weeks I was able to help at least 20 students create an e-mail account!

Once my students had an e-mail account, there next challenge was how to send and reply to e-mails. Fortunately, my colleagues were happy to receive many e-mails and my students loved being able to e-mail their English teacher and see their replies. I was also able to show them how to e-mail each other and add attachments such as photos and documents. A few ladies were thrilled to be able to access their e-mails on their phone, which meant they could check e-mails at home and not just in the computer class.

During these ICT lessons, I was also able to show my students how to access websites for self-study such as the British Council Games website [1] and also how to find videos on YouTube. In addition, they learnt how to use Google to search for information, including using Google Maps. My students loved showing me where they lived in Plymouth and a few wanted to show me where they lived in their home countries [2]. We were also able to tie ‘computer lessons’ with other activities like cooking by watching a video on YouTube and them making food afterwards. We found directions to visit a local cafĂ© on Google and then went on a class trip there! We also find out information about the local library and took a trip there to learn how to practise using computers outside of class (this proved to be interesting as the computers used a separate mouse, rather than a flat one like on laptops!).

All of these activities took place before Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. When lockdown happened, my ICT class had to pause, but the ICT skills that my students picked up have hopefully continued. The majority of these ladies were able to attend English classes via Zoom and a few have started using their new e-mails to message their teachers, which has been amazing.

 If you are interested in teaching ICT skills to ESOL students then I would give the following advice:
  •        Be patient, learning a new skill takes time. Some students may pick things up quicker than others, but they will get there in the end (even if it takes them 10 minutes to log-in!).
  •         If you have a limited number of laptops/ computers, encourage students to work in pairs or threes. Give students a different few activities to do, so you can spend time 1:1 with students who need your help the most. My students quickly picked up the phrase “One moment! One moment!” when I couldn’t be with them straight away.
  •         Encourage them to be as independent as possible. Show students what to do, but make sure they learn to click the button and type the words themselves.
  •         Have fun and don’t be afraid to try new things out. Your students will definitely surprise you!

Here are some good websites for teaching basic ICT:

Here are a few of my ICT worksheets:


[2] This was done with great sensitivity, as a few of them came from war-torn places in Syria and Sudan.


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