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Myanmar and international academics continue their dialogue with a Third Women, Ancestry and Heritage (WAH) Workshop on 4-5 October 2016 at SEAMEO CHAT in Yangon, Myanmar


Following two successful annual workshops known as Women, Ancestry and Heritage (WAH) Project workshops, which started in 2014, a third workshop was held from 4th to 6th October 2016 at SEAMEO CHAT, Yangon University, Yangon, Myanmar. The main objective of the WAH Project is to serve the needs of education, research, teaching, outreach and archival holdings, and to offer an opportunity to historians, anthropologists, teachers and researchers for interdisciplinary collaboration and transformative research with long-ranging implications on educational and teaching uses.

The third workshop once more provided a valuable venue to bring together 38 historians, anthropologists, international scholars and experts from the University of Yangon and Mandalay, SEAMEO CHAT, University of Oxford, George Mason University and UNESCO to share experience and discuss ways to overcome challenges by applying practical outcomes from the workshop.

Building on the work of previous workshops, discussions brought to the fore assumptions and methodologies underlying Oral History by examining and testing their important implications for education, research and teaching. The focus of the third workshop was on dynamic and interactive ‘communities of learners’. Participants were encouraged to challenge the traditional views of classroom settings, and to discuss how to view the world beyond a classroom as a source of learning for both teachers and students.

The first day started with exploration of the connection between classroom and society, as well as between approaches to fieldwork/research and those to classroom culture and social and gender change in a wider Myanmar context. P. Freire’s model of alternative knowledge production and learning as well as its salient conceptual and pedagogical features were introduced, always with particular reference to their relevance to current Myanmar education.

Led by stimulating presentations by workshop facilitators, participants discussed in small groups how to develop a ‘learning community’ or ‘community of learners’ whereby the classroom becomes an active student-participatory environment, and to learn about the significance of alternative models of research/teaching. Also, participants were introduced to ‘experiential learning’ – whether in the local community or in far-away borderlands and regions. Question and Answer sessions, including all facilitators and participants, allowed for feedback and collective learning. Practical components, organized by participants under the mentorship of the workshop facilitators, were interspersed at regular intervals with more conceptual discussions. The workshop included varied and insightful lessons that may be learnt from shifting content and mode of presentations and applications.

Workshop facilitators made use of days before and after the workshop to discuss objectives, agenda-related issues, review outcomes and identify steps to be taken to ensure ongoing work. The demand for continuation of the workshop series derives importantly from the dialogic and highly interactive mode of WAH workshops, facilitating experiential dimensions of Oral History methods through exploration of personal, ideological and socio-political implications of doing challenging research/fieldwork in present-day in Myanmar. This approach differs greatly from the conventional style of delivery of academic knowledge. Instead, so the success of the workshops has amply demonstrated, greatest relevance comes from sharing of experience of academic work in contrasting contexts and from joint identification of needs and possible solutions and ways forward. 

 “We need to grab change”, said Dr. Al Fuertes (George Mason University), “Our attitude and perspective are very important when it comes to making change, especially in the transformation period of Myanmar, which is right now.” As Dr Maria Jaschok (Oxford) put it in her words of welcome for the Third WAH workshop, the central question to be addressed had to be, “How can we transform ‘classrooms’ to become ‘communities of learning’ and active partners in societal change?”

Two days of active discussion and group work culminated in significant progress toward finalization of a Gender-centered Pedagogy Kit for the Critical Classroom. It formed the fitting end to a greatly appreciated time of joint work, and participants dispersed with the happy anticipation of more workshops to come.