Spiraling conflict and turmoil in Myanmar (Burma) are having a profound impact on children’s education. With support from Community Partners International, the Saya Foundation provides online training to teachers in Myanmar to support children’s access to quality education. We talk to a trainer and teacher about their work and the value of this support.
As many as half of Myanmar’s children, nearly eight million, remain out of school. Many schools in Myanmar closed fully or partially during the COVID-19 pandemic. When they re-opened in late 2021, formal education enrollment dropped dramatically as parents kept their children away due to fears for their safety and financial hardship, These education disruptions have also affected teachers, with many struggling to access the training and professional support they need.
“This is why we set up the Teacher Mentorship Program,” explains Saya Foundation teacher trainer Myo Swe Thant. “We want to help teachers continue and improve their teaching during this difficult period.”
Launched in 2022, the Teacher Mentorship Program is an online modular teacher training and support course that lasts four months and includes assignments and practical exercises. The course focuses on young pre-service and early career education teachers, usually between 18 and 30.
“There are six modules in the program: understanding learners, creating safe learning environments, educational theory and practice, essential skills for teachers, digital literacy and virtual teaching, and professional values and ethics for teachers,” explains Myo Swe Thant. “Everything is done online through video conferencing. Most of the participating teachers are using teacher-centered methods. We help them make the change to child-centered learning.”
“In 2022, we ran three courses with 54 teachers participating,” reveals Myo Swe Thant. “The participants come from all over the country, including urban, rural, and conflict areas. We focus on areas where learning opportunities are most restricted, and children are most marginalized. Most teachers are young and teach in monastery or church schools or as freelancers.”
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One of the program's participants, Hnin Theingi, teaches at Phaung Daw Oo Monastic School in Mandalay. Hnin Theingi herself graduated high school there. “My parents are farmers and couldn’t afford to support me through high school,” she explains. “I stopped for three years and just stayed in my village. But then I heard about Phaung Daw Oo and came to complete my high school education here. The school accepts students whose parents face financial hardship. Students can stay here and learn free of charge.”
After completing high school, Hnin Theingi stayed at Phaung Daw Oo as an administrator and became a teacher about one year ago. She teaches mathematics to more than 40 children aged from 10 to 12.
“There are children from many different backgrounds at the school,” she explains. “Most of them are from low-income families, and some students are from conflict areas. They face many challenges accessing education in their villages, so their parents bring them here to continue their education.”
Thrown into teaching with little training, Hnin Theingi struggled. “I wasn’t used to the classroom environment and felt stressed. I just focused on finishing the topic in the lesson but didn’t prioritize the learners’ understanding and enjoyment. Sometimes I shouted at them because I was stressed and unhappy with my teaching. I wasn’t building a good teacher-learner relationship.”
In 2022, she saw a post on social media about the Saya Foundation’s Teacher Mentorship Program. “I was interested in the modules they advertised. I hoped that the program could help me solve my teaching challenges.”
She soon began to apply what she had learned in her classroom. “I asked my students about their learning challenges and how they felt. I listened to them and started to build understanding. I adjusted my teaching to suit their different needs. Now they trust me, and I have a good relationship with them. I see positive changes in my teaching and enjoy it more than before. The program showed me what I needed to change and how to do it.”
Hnin Theingi has noticed how her new approach to teaching is helping individual learners. “I had one student who was often quiet and looked unhappy,” she reveals. “I talked to her and discovered that she was very stressed. She has to get up at five o’clock in the morning to attend tuition before school. She also has to attend a language class after school and then do her homework when she gets home. So she has difficulty concentrating. I sympathized with her and adjusted my lessons to help her and other students like her. Now she seems much happier.”
Myanmar’s turmoil is a constant challenge for the program and its participants, especially for those in more remote, rural areas. “Some teachers had to drop out because of problems with internet access and electricity cuts,” explains Myo Swe Thant. ”In other cases, conflict and displacement prevented them from continuing.”
Nevertheless, Myo Swe Thant and his colleagues at the Saya Foundation continue to push on to bring much-needed training and support to teachers across Myanmar. “We measure our success by how the teachers apply the methods we teach them to help children learn,” he explains. “We stay in touch with them after the program to offer them lifetime learning and support. We aim to help them with whatever they need."
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