Image description: A blue background with a yellow logo: Jacari. Time to teach
The Oxford Student spoke to both Freya Turner, Lead Coordinator for Jacari in Oxford, and Nailah Ranjan, student co-President, about the charity, and their upcoming 65th Anniversary.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of educational inequality had already been strongly felt by disadvantaged students whose first language is not English, often alienated in classroom environments while learning alongside native speakers. It therefore goes without saying that the coronavirus has had a particularly devastating impact on EAL (English as an Additional Language) pupils; the disruption of education that has arisen from the closure of schools nationwide has left many such students with far fewer opportunities to practice their English.
What does Jacari do, and why is it important?
Freya: “We match each pupil to a student volunteer – we have volunteers from Oxford Brookes and Oxford University – and they tutor them for one hour per week, currently over video call. We have around 60 volunteer-pupil pairs at the moment and receive referrals of pupils from 10 schools across Oxford. When children feel left behind with language, they can feel marginalised and left out at school, hitting their confidence and damaging their ability to engage academically. Jacari lessons are designed to be fun; they help with boosting children’s overall social confidence and the student tutors provide an inspiring educational role model! Taking part in Jacari also helps student volunteers invest in and connect with the wider oxford community and spend some time outside of the ‘university bubble’”.
Nailah: “Jacari is important because it offers a key source of support for students who are struggling to adjust to life in England and helps them to excel in school, build confidence and fulfil their academic potential, paving the way towards more educational opportunities such as access to higher education.”
How did Jacari begin, and what are the most significant changes it has faced over the decades?
Freya: “Jacari was set up in 1956 as a student society to tackle inequality and racial discrimination as the Joint Action Committee Against Racial Intolerance (JACARI). During the 1950s and 60s, Jacari organised many high-profile speaker events and campaigns highlighting the racial injustices of the time. For example, they arranged an extensive survey to show that a majority of Oxford landladies would not accept black students as tenants, highlighting the barriers that students of colour faced in attending the university. They also fundraised for scholarships for students from South Africa. Jacari’s teaching programme was born in 1965, and over the decades we have shifted from a campaigning organisation and student society to a registered charity (we registered in 2005), focused on providing free English tuition.
Nailah: “The charity is fundamentally opposed to racial intolerance, especially in the context of our work with migrant, asylum-seeking, and refugee children. Jacari […] now works with more than 200 volunteer tutors across Oxford and Bristol.”
How has Jacari been impacted by the pandemic, and how have they responded to it?
Freya: “Before the pandemic Jacari tuition was delivered in the pupils’ homes, so volunteers would travel there and get to meet the pupil’s wider family, which was part of what makes us so special! When lockdown happened in March 2020 we had to adapt very rapidly to the challenge of offering Jacari tuition via video calls. Our volunteers have been so fantastic at giving this a try, alongside using letter writing and phone calls to stay in touch with their pupils. In Autumn 2020 we were able to train a whole cohort of new volunteers on Zoom and get them started with fully remote tutoring. A big challenge for us was that 30% of our pupils didn’t have any technology at home for accessing Jacari lessons, and these were the pupils who most needed our help as they were not able to engage in remote learning during the first lockdown . We’’ve been mobilising the local community to donate laptops and tablets over the past few months, and have now started loaning them out to families in need so that every child who needs it can have a tutor.”
What is the most rewarding part of being involved in Jacari?
Freya: “I love meeting our volunteers (even on zoom!) and finding out about their motivations – I’m constantly impressed by everyone who devotes time to their Jacari pupil on top of their busy life as an Oxford student – I know what that can be like! Another highlight of my job is receiving feedback from parents about the impact of the Jacari tutor’s support. I think for the volunteers it is really rewarding to build a friendship over time with their pupil.
Nailah: “The most rewarding part is definitely seeing the progress made by your Jacari pupil. You can definitely tell that they enjoy the lessons and seeing them become more comfortable both with English and with you over time is really special.”
What sorts of events have you been holding recently? Any future events planned?
Freya: “We’ve held some online socials for our volunteers including a virtual escape room, and our committee organised a fantastic raffle in November as a fundraiser. We normally hold events for volunteers, pupils and parents to attend, such as trips to the ice rink or theatre. Sadly these couldn’t happen in 2020 but we are hopeful that we may be able to hold an outdoor event in summer 2021 if it is fully safe to do so! It’s also our 65th anniversary this year, and we are planning a ‘65 for 65’ fundraising challenge, where we encourage our supporters to walk, run or cycle 65 miles or undertake 65 hours of a new hobby over the course of 2021, and get sponsored by their friends and family.”
What is the best way that the wider community can get involved?
Nailah: “The best way you can get involved is as a volunteer tutor, so please visit our website (jacari.org) to find out more. Alternatively if you can’t commit the time, we’d really appreciate a vote in the RAG Charity Ballot or participation in our fundraisers for our 65th Anniversary. You can follow our FB (Jacari Oxford) to stay updated!”
Our Student Spotlight series aims to highlight the societies and charities active in the Oxford Community. If you have a suggestion for who we should feature, get in touch here.
Image via Jacari