As the multiplicity of languages in UK schools grows, how can we be sure it does not get in the way of getting a good education?

The numbers of children who are from minority ethnic origins has been steadily rising and now makes up 33.5% of children in UK primary schools.  This means that the proportion of pupils who use English as an additional language (EAL) has also been on the rise – 21.2% at the last count.  If a child uses English as a second language, the chances are that the same can be said of one or both parents.

John Hattie demonstrated in his ground-breaking 1992 work ‘Visible Learning’ how important it is that everyone associated with a child, including parents and successive teachers, all have access to assessment data.  However it isn’t just feedback that plays a part – parental engagement is also vitally important.  A paper written for the Education Endowment Foundation by academics at Plymouth and Exeter universities reinforces this point.  It concluded that ‘there is a positive association between parental engagement in children’s learning and learning outcomes, regardless of the child’s socio-economic status and grade level’.

So any student support system needs to think about how it communicates with over 20% of students and their parents who use English as an additional language.  It is with that in mind that we designed the most recent feature addition to Kinteract – a translation systems that keeps parents in step with a student’s achievement or assessment by communicating updates to them in their language of choice.  We now have 20 languages available on the Kinteract app, which is supplemented with an additional 100 languages via the Google Cloud translation tool.  

Translation can be a key enabler to allow us to facilitate parental engagement and share messages with stakeholders responsible for a child’s education.  Perhaps the most important message a child can receive about education is that the expectation for academic achievement is consistent within both their home life and their school – and this reinforces engagement in lessons.

Enabling parents to access posts made by teachers and their children in their native language gives them a unique opportunity to engage in the learning experience.  It may simply be to tell them that their child has some work to do, but it might also facilitate a dialogue which maintains a personal connection between parents and teachers.

EAL parents no longer have to feel “left out” of key decisions in their child’s learning, from simple notes home that say, “do you want your child to go on this trip?” to more significant feedback about performance.  It is not wise to have the child themselves as the sole translator of these messages – some of the meaning may get lost in translation – both accidentally, or deliberately – homework may end up not being done on the right day and the child may not feel as if they are fully part of the school community.  What if a message about allergies is misunderstood for example? It is important that our system should in fact relieve the child from the responsibility of ensuring their parents are aware of all school communications.

And it is important that such a system is set up so that it is easy to click a single setting and thereafter get communication in your first language, as well as ensuring parents can reply in their native language, and be certain that the teacher will get the right message.

In some classrooms, teachers have a group of pupils who can speak up to as many as 20 different languages. This makes it impossible to create an environment of feedback and engagement, unless you can rely on truly automated, accurate translation.

The UK prides itself on being a diverse and multicultural country, and technology can now help bridge the language barrier gap that exists in education and ensure that every child benefits from the same level of feedback and support.

Shehzad Najib, CEO, Kinteract