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‘Before, I thought I could never study’: Myanmar learners on flexible learning’s benefits

Flexible learning programmes provide opportunities to those who face often overwhelming hardships that result in many of them having to drop out of school or never being able to attend in the first place.

Up until recently when the country began the process to formalize a Department of Alternative Education, there was no central non-formal education (NFE) department in the country. The Myanmar Literacy Resource Centre has aimed to address the issue of insufficient institutional support and assist in the implementation of NFE activities by acting as the technical centre for NFE activities, including the Non-Formal Primary Education (NFPE) programme, with the support of the Myanmar Education Research Bureau. Students who complete two years of the NFPE programme receive a primary school certificate which then enables them to study in middle school.

UNESCO Bangkok recently visited a NFPE centre in South Dagon township, located in the southeastern part of Yangon, and spoke to three inspiring students who shared their experiences in non-formal learning.

‘My siblings dropped out, so I knew I had to’

“It was not easy for me to go to school regularly until I came to this centre,” says 14-year-old Maung Kyaw Kyaw.

As the youngest of five siblings, he watched his sisters and brother leave school early and knew he would have to do the same. “I could not ask my parents to send me to school when I knew that they could not and my sisters and brother dropped out to support the family.”

His family’s challenges did not diminish his desire to learn, however, and he decided to join a religious boarding school away from South Dagon when the opportunity arose. “I did not like it because it was extremely difficult to stay away from my family,” he says. “Shortly after, I decided to quit and came back home to stay with my family.”

The opportunity to study at the center about one year ago meant that he could pursue his love of learning, while remaining close to his family.

At the NFPE centre, Maung Kyaw Kyaw is improving his literacy and numeracy as well as learning vocational skills through academic and income-generation activities. He successfully completed his first year at the centre and is now at the second level. Maung Kyaw Kyaw has a coy smile but speaks confidently about his prospects: “I am really looking forward to completing the second level so that I can enroll in grade 6 at the middle school right next to the centre.”

Family first in formal education

Ma Mya Mya (right) and her younger sister Ma Su Su.

Ma Mya Mya, a 15-year-old native of South Dagon township, is one of six students who successfully graduated from the NFPE programme last year and is currently studying at the middle school, making her the first generation in her family to enter formal education.

Like Maung Kyaw Kyaw, Ma Mya Mya has many siblings and wasn’t able to attend school because her parents’ business was not going well and her mother was sick.   

Ma Su Su, Ma Mya Mya’s younger sister, is also attending the centre, hoping that she can follow her sister’s footsteps.

“My parents are very proud of me and my sister,” says Ma Mya Mya. “Being one of those who had the opportunity to learn through a flexible programme like NFPE, I now realize that learning can take place anywhere and anytime.” 

She thanks UNESCO Bangkok, the centre and the MLRC for the programme and hopes to use her education to change other people’s lives one day.

“Since my first day at the centre, I have dreamed of becoming a teacher,” she says. “I want to help children like me and my sister by giving them more learning opportunities. I think becoming a teacher is the best way to do so.”

Inclusion of the NFPE programme

Maung Pyae Sone and his mother.

Maung Pyae Sone, a 10-year old boy with physical disabilities, including extreme weakness in his arms and right leg, has just joined the programme. 

His reason for joining was different from most of his classmates at the centre:  although his family could afford tuition, schools that his family contacted could not take him because, like most schools in Myanmar, they lacked proper barrier-free facilities.

The NFPE centre provides learning opportunities for children with disabilities. Maung Pyae Sone now reads books and plays Pictionary to improve his basic literacy skills. 

“I am really enjoying my time here and all the support I get from teachers and classmates to learn,” he says.

      


NFPE: Innovating for Education in Myanmar

NFPE teachers, a middle school teacher who assists NFPE graduates, students and their parents.

Students in many parts of Myanmar still do not have equal access to education.  Many families like Maung Kyaw Kyaw’s, Ma Mya Mya’s and Maung Pyae Sone’s cannot afford to pay for their children’s education or find a school that can accommodate students with different needs.

For students like Maung Kyaw Kyaw, Ma Mya Mya and Maung Pyae Sone, the NFPE programme can be a good starting point: it has flexible learning hours, is tuition-free and gives little homework (so that they can help their parents after school).

With the help of Educate A Child, UNESCO Bangkok and the MLRC have supported the NFPE programme in seven townships since November 2015. From November 2015 to June 2016, 825 students enrolled in the programme. 

UNESCO Bangkok also provided monthly stipends to learners in five selected townships, targeting 500 students. Approximately 76 percent of them attended at least 80 percent of their classes. UNESCO Bangkok will continue its support for out-of-school children through the NFPE programme and flexible learning strategies. This support will aim to not only improve learners’ attendance and performance but also to strengthen the capacities of NFPE facilitators and regional and township monitors.

 

 

These interviews were made possible with the dedicated support of U Min Kyaw Wai, Central NFPE Coordinator, and Dr. Htoo Htoo Aung, NFPE Consultant at the MLRC, and the generous support of the NFPE centre in South Dagon township.

 

Related links

• Lower Secondary Equivalency Programmes in Lao PDR and Myanmar: www.unescobkk.org/education/literacy-and-lifelong-learning/equivalency-programmes/

• UNESCO-Educate A Child Partnership: educateachild.org/our-partners-projects/partner/unesco

• Non-Formal Primary Education: mmnfpe.org

Students and teachers at the centre.

The head of the centre (left) and a teacher (center) and her students.

Story and photos by Hyunjeong Lee, UNESCO Bangkok 



17.10.2016