From tradition to tech

Myo Zaw grew up in a traditional Karen household, and today passes on his IT skills to a new generation of Karen youth

When asked about his childhood, Myo Zaw tells me that he remembers waking early to water the fields of crops his family grew; he and his brother would be asked to go to the well to collect water in the morning before the heat of the day, and in the evening once the sun had set. Ladies would weave intricate materials on their back strap looms. Folk songs were sung about love and loss, accompanied by a Karen harp. It was a very traditional life in many ways, and one that he has nostalgic feelings about now.

Myo Zaw tells me these things as he shows me around one of the few remaining traditional Karen villages near Hpa-An where he lives. The villagers are incredibly welcoming, and when we are sung a traditional Karen lullaby, accompanied by a harp that the performer had made himself, Myo Zaw smiles at the memories it stirs up.
Growing up in Karen State, as part of a minority group, presents additional difficulties to young people who want to gain a quality education, beyond those which are experienced by all Myanmar students, Myo Zaw tells me. In some of the more traditional, strict villages, young people must wear Karen dress at all times. This can result in them being excluded from national education, where a standard uniform is enforced. Karen children also often experience bullying as a result of their clothes and speech, which are considered “different” by their peers.

Students at EGG learn computing through experience

Myo Zaw however did complete his school education, and decided to study computer science at the Computer University of Hpa-An, close enough to home that he would not need to move away from his family. Unfortunately, while he was there, he struggled to gain any meaningful education from his course. As with the secondary education system in Myanmar, lessons were learned by rote, so that rather than working on computers to study the systems and coding, he would spend time manually writing up long lines of computer code by hand with a pen and paper.

Myo Zaw told us that gaining an international education had been a lifelong dream of his, but one which he didn’t think could be realised. When he heard about Prospect Burma, he realised there was a possibility it could happen after all. He told me that when he received the confirmation letter he jumped for joy. With the support of Prospect Burma, Myo Zaw studied a masters of Telecommunication Studies at Assumption University in Thailand. He was finally able to study using a real computer, and see the mechanisms he had memorised put to use.

Today, Myo Zaw is the Principal of Education Gathering Group (EGG), a higher education facility in Hpa-An, which caters to young people who want to gain vital critical thinking, English language, and computing skills. It’s a mission that should sound very familiar to any Prospect Burma supporters. The students that come to his school are from a wide catchment area, and are united by their desire to gain a more meaningful education. He is keen to pass on the critical thinking skills and other core learnings which made such a difference to his own life.