Before many of our students can apply to Universities around the world, they need to complete an English Language course. As internationally many universities teach in English, it is a requirement that our students can’t afford to skip. Prospect Burma volunteer Joe Massey visited a Prospect Burma funded English Language school, Sky Age, to find out more.
In 2012 ex-political prisoner Ko Saw Thet Tun had the idea to provide free, accessible education to the children of political prisoners, and people from remote locations throughout Myanmar. As a young man, after witnessing the 1988 uprising, Ko Saw Thet Tun believed the best way to fight for the future of Myanmar was to take up arms against the government, and he joined the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDM). He was captured and imprisoned for seven years. Upon his release, he began to campaign more peacefully for change, writing and distributing leaflets with a group of friends. He was arrested again in 1999, and this time imprisoned for 22 years. He was eventually released in 2011, and started to teach English to the children of political prisoners. Over the years he decided that education, and not force, was the way to make lasting change.
Since then, the scheme has grown and in 2012 became the Sky Age school, which Prospect Burma is proud to fund, with support from the US State Department*. The school is designed to be mobile, to reach more remote locations, and is currently based just outside of Yangon where they have recently moved from a smaller site. Students and teachers live on site during the 7 months of their term, and school days are long, with classes beginning at 7am and ending at 9pm, with breaks for food and exercise throughout the day. This immersive atmosphere enables students to learn at a much quicker rate. Students all take part in looking after the school and each other with rotas for cooking and cleaning, and all of this results in a familial atmosphere.
Suu Myat Noe Min, 22, is a teaching assistant at Sky Age. She is the daughter of political prisoners, and during their incarceration was brought up by her Grandmother, who wanted her to believe that her parents were working abroad. She found out the truth one day when a friend’s parent accidentally let it slip. It was quite lonely for her growing up, she told Joe, as other families were wary of letting their children befriend the daughter of political prisoners. After leaving high school she joined the first ever batch of Sky Age students, and began to study English. It was when she arrived there that she began to feel a part of something. She was studying with other children of political prisoners. She told Joe that she loves Sky Age because:
“There is no discrimination – not because of religion, not because of ethnicity, not because you have parents who are political prisoners. It is hugely comforting to find yourself with people from a similar background to you.”
She was encouraged by Ko Saw Thet Tun to take the British Council English Language qualification, and after passing became a teacher at the school. In 2016 Suu Myat Noe Min joined the Myanmar Mobile Education (MME) project, which works to educate tea-shop workers, who are predominantly children, and teaches a huge variety of subjects from English language to life skills.
Suu Myat Noe Min’s eventual goal is to become an Engineer, but in the meantime is passionate about passing on her English skills to upcoming students. She would love to change the future of Myanmar ultimately. She watched her Father work for change through political activism, but like Sky Age founder Ko Saw Thet Tun, the impact she would like to make will be through advocacy and education.
It is a commonly shared goal of Sky Age’s students and graduates to spread the school’s reach even further, especially into more rural and remote parts of the country. Through their hard work and dedication, more and more young people are able to access higher education opportunities, or more lucrative employment opportunities.