For many years students in Myanmar could not access higher education at home. Today, with universities open again and internet connectivity available throughout the country, it would be easy to believe that our work is accomplished. However with universities in Myanmar still falling far below international standard and the rapidly moving political situation in the country, the need for our work is greater than ever.
The transition between matriculation at Grade 10 and university is a significant leap. In order to study abroad, students from Myanmar need more than just good grades – they need a recognised English language qualification. They also need a raft of other skills. Students today are required to carry out all of their work on computers, and often assignments are logged and assessed online. For people living in remote, rural villages access to computers is incredibly limited. Although Facebook is now widely used throughout the country, skills which we may take for granted such as how to correctly use search engines, keep our personal data secure and compose professional emails may not have been acquired by many of our students. While at university they will be expected to debate and question, which a lifetime of rote learning does not prepare you for. Our Access to Learning programme aims to fill these gaps in our students’ knowledge.
Over the coming years, we plan to expand our Access to Learning and Change in the Community Programmes, to provide preparation for, and aftercare following, study abroad. We are working with partners throughout the country, including Rakhine State, to create more access programmes, offering vital pre-university training to people in some of the most remote parts of the country. We took the first step this year with the launch of our Bridging Programme. Read about one of the first Bridging Programme students below.
When they return home, securing employment can be a daunting prospect for our graduates. Our Change in the Community programme will be expanding in the coming years, to offer community hubs throughout the country where alumni can network, share opportunities and support each other. We are excited to share with you, in future editions, how this is developing.
Bridging Programme – Eh Gay Dah’s story
Eh Gay Dah grew up in a village in Kayin State in the south of Myanmar. He was born in 1989 into a family experiencing the after-effects of the violent quashing of student protests the year before. When his elder brothers became teenagers the family worried that they might be forced to join the army, and they fled across the border to become immigrant workers in Thailand. They had not passed their high school qualifications, and left school without graduating. Eh Gay Dah however wanted to stay in school, and his family all supported him in this choice. As someone of Karen background, he experienced a barrier to education that a lot of ethnic groups in Myanmar encounter:
“When I finished primary school, I needed to move to the middle school that [was] quite far from my village. At that time, all of the teachers used Burmese language in teaching all of the subjects. Every day, I just sit in the classroom and listened to the teachers without understanding what they taught. And also I was so silent in the class because I was not capable to communicate in Burmese. Every day, I just went back home and studied lesson without knowing the meaning.”
This method of rote learning is standard in Myanmar, and Eh Gay Dah successfully completed his middle school education despite not speaking Burmese. People from the community were perplexed by his decision to study, and often asked his parents why they didn’t send him to Thailand along with his brothers, to make money. Eh Gay Dah however was passionate about education at this point, and with the help of a scholarship and his parents support undertook Library and Information Studies at the University of East Yangon. When he graduated Eh Gay Dah started to become interested in the workings of his community, and in particular in the work of community leaders.
Eh Gay Dah applied to Prospect Burma’s Bridging Programme to help better equip himself to be a future community leader. He wanted an IELTS qualification in order to undertake a masters in Rural Development overseas, where he will gain important knowledge about infrastructure development, management and stakeholder management. Eh Gay Dah arrived at Prospect Burma’s Yangon office in early February 2019. Living in the capital city was a far cry from his home village. He told us:
“In Yangon, it takes a lot of time [to travel] because of traffic jam. Also, crowded people and traffic jam affect the environment to become noise and pollute, whereas my city town is pleasure of fresh air and silent environment.”
He found the bridging programme a very enriching experience, telling us that alongside English language training, he received training on: “…Stress and improved basic knowledge on Business Management, Civic education, communication, Environmental, Religion and Belief, Financial management, Gender equality and Private sector development.”
He successfully passed his IELTS training, and now plans to apply for the Prospect Burma Learning to Leadership programme, to support him undertaking his planned masters degree abroad.