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Armenian and Afghani resilience triumphs online.

From left to right: excited learner drivers Khatera, Benafsha (with her daughter), Nagar, Astagheek, Maral and Barkeaf with trainer Nikki (fifth from left), inside Strong Drive Children's Centre, Hampton Park.

Challenges before beginning

Planning for the May 2023 Changing Gears program for South-East Community Links (SECL) was a challenging process. Trainer Nikki and SECL Support Coordinator Andrea Shepherd had a very direct encounter with the challenges faced by VicRoads.

Students wishing to obtain their learner permits through SECL were refugees from Armenian and Afghani communities and VicRoads had experienced great difficulty securing Armenian translators.

Each appointment for a person wishing to sit the learner permit test at VicRoads is booked for a forty-five minute time slot and VicRoads must pay translators regardless of whether the potential learner driver shows up to the appointment or not.

This is in direct contrast to the Changing Gears method of creating group bookings for their students and sharing translators amidst the group for that time period. There was no way the VicRoads system could accommodate the two-hour group booking method when translators were involved. And external translators, who may be willing to work in this way were not allowed.

That said, it was decided that the SECL students would attempt the learner permit course and do the test online, even though the program is only available in English.

A tentative but well organised start

So it was with trepidation that Nikki met program participants Astagheek, Barkeaf and Maral (our Armenian group), and Amir, Benafsha, Khatera, Negar and Sahar (from Afghanistan) at the Strong Drive Children's Centre in Hampton Park. Shukria, who had already passed the course also attended to better understand the road rules.

SECL staff had prepared brilliantly for the course ensuring everyone had a personal email address they could use to create a VicRoads account with. This is required to complete the online program.

The morning was spent setting up everyone’s VicRoads account and getting to the point the group could start the course. Andrea and SECL staff Emily and Shegofa were invaluable in helping everyone get online, which was an unfamiliar activity for many of the participants.

Terrific translators

Everyone in the group was over thirty, several being in their fifties and sixties and many had not used a laptop before.

Shegofa and translator Mohammed were able to assist the Dari speakers, although for the first day, we did not have an Armenian translator.

After lunch, the group began the course in earnest looking at subject matter from the first module, “Your driving attitude.” The Armenian group found it hard not having a translator. Brother and sister Barkeaf and Astagheek had good English reading skills but Barkeaf’s wife, Maral struggled.

“Make sure you make a note of any question you may have,” trainer Nikki suggested, “that way you can ask the translator about it when you have them tomorrow.”

Inconsistent internet helped by amazing SECL staff

In addition, the internet connection kept going down so participants had to keep refreshing their computers and sometimes sign in again. Emily and Andrea were wonderful, supporting the group by assisting them with this difficulty.

The following day, the group was joined by Armenian translator Annette. She and Mohammed were able to explain everything as the group moved through the online course.

Nikki often helped members of the group navigate the website, showing them how to answer questions by clicking on the appropriate selection and to forward through each section. Sometimes sections of progress were lost as participants clicked the “back” button. But slowly their understanding of how to use their computers grew.

Time, lost in translation

By the third day of the course, it became apparent that the group was moving through the material very slowly. Each section tackled by Nikki needed to be explained via each of the translators. (Hamed replaced Mohammed for the Dari speakers.) Every quiz had to be translated for each of the participants, meaning that by the end of the third day, the group had only just begun the second module, “Signs and Rules.”

On the fourth day, normally the conclusion of the course, it was apparent that the group would not finish and be able to sit their online test.

So many challenges

“There are many reasons for this,” trainer Nikki noted, “Not only is it extremely difficult to get appointments at VicRoads with a translator. But understandably, VicRoads encourages people to do the online test. This a group of immigrants and refugees who may never have seen a computer before. And, they are having to complete the course in English.

“Then, when you attempt the online program, the quizzes and challenge activities are complex. They track at a certificate IV level. (Many questions require one correct answer, many require multiple correct answers. In some questions, all answers are correct which can be incredibly confusing.) The in-person computer test taken at VicRoads is at a certificate II level with three choices per question asked, only one of them being correct. In addition, to pass the test online you need a 90% pass rate whereas the in-person test taken at VicRoads requires only 78%.

“On top of all this, the four hours suggested as the time required to complete all modules and the learner permit test online is completely blown out by the requirement for translation of every sentence, every quiz, every challenge activity and every test.”

Refugees resilience is rewarded

The students had just reached the beginning of the third module, “Sharing the road,” by the end of the fourth day. Nikki volunteered her time for a fifth day in order to see all students complete the online course and attempt their test. SECL team members Andrea, and Shegofa graciously offered to return, rebook the facility and employ translators Hamed and Annette, for a fifth day.

Everyone was very excited on day five. Barkeaf had completed all the online units on his phone and so trainer Nikki supported him as he sat his test, which he passed with flying colours. The one question he got incorrect, appeared to allow only one correct answer. However, in order to answer the question correctly, participants needed to be able to select multiple answers. (Please see picture below.)

Above: VicRoads test question that required multiple correct answers but allowed only one, thereby being marked automatically incorrect.

Hard working translators triumph

The translators worked hard to support the participants with Andrea also supporting Astagheek and Shegofa pitching in to translate for Nagar. By the end of the day, everyone but Maral had passed their test.

Each successful test was met with whoops and hugs. This huge hurdle in moving towards the independence of driving had been removed.

Nikki was touched by how much their success meant to each of the participants. With that in mind, she agreed to stay beyond the 2pm finishing time to support Maral in sitting her test. Andrea from SECL agreed to fund the additional cost of having translator Annette stay as well so that Maral could finish.

An amazing final effort

With Nikki reading out and explaining the questions and translator Annette working with her, Maral worked extremely hard demonstrating well, (as all participants had), her understanding of the Victorian road code and the need to drive safely. At a little after 3pm, Maral too was rewarded with the successful completion of her learner permit test.

“Thank you so much teacher,” Maral cried hugging Nikki.

“You are so welcome,” Nikki beamed, “but we also need to thank Annette, Andrea (for allowing the extra funding for translators to stay and help) and Hamad, Mohammad, Emily and Shegofa for their efforts as well. Without this team of people this success would not have been possible.”

In future Changing Gears plans to make individual translator-assisted appointments at VicRoads, even thought this allows little flexibility in allowing walkin’s for the program. We intend to revert to delivering the program in the format that has assisted over 1000 refugees and disadvantaged people to obtain their learner permit and develop a sound understanding of road safety.

From left to right: excited learner drivers Nagar, Khatera, Benafsha (with her daughter), Astagheek, Maral, translater Annette and Barkeaf with SECL staff Shegofa and Andrea (third and fourth from left), inside Strong Drive Children's Centre, Hampton Park.

Possibilities open up

Driving opens up so many possibilities for disadvantaged young people. Classes are supportive, students and trainers inspire each other, showing the way for young people to overcome their obstacles to driving and experience success.

Click here to subscribe and find out about delivery of the Changing Gears program.

Call 1800 766 361 to find out more about Changing Gears.

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