Aung Naing Lin (pictured above) has been unable to take up his first year place at Chiang Mai University in Thailand due to travel restrictions. He is studying Social Science because he wants to help his community by becoming a social science teacher. Undeterred, he is studying remotely online from his home in Rakhine State. Here’s what he told us:
“My career vision as a social science teacher is to be able to provide affordable social awareness to marginalized communities in Myanmar.
“I imagined studying at university would give me the opportunity to explore a new country’s language and culture at the same time. I could meet a diverse range of students who will not only help me to develop my people skills, but also help me with a more in-depth knowledge of others, particularly those from different cultures and religious backgrounds.
“The COVID-19 pandemic changes everything now for our daily life and also shifts the school setting to online. I have only a mobile phone that I have used to attend online classes since July. Sometimes, it didn’t work well because I had to use it the whole day for online classes. But I did not have any choice so I tried to used it where possible.
“Sometimes, electricity is cut off the whole day, especially in the rainy season. There is also poor internet connection which causes delays when studying online.
“Figuring out how to use different websites and when a new assignment has been posted takes a while. Sometimes, it is hard when I didn’t understand something, and instead I have to email my teachers and then wait for them to email me.
“I have a few more friends through online from our Social Science International Program where we have a range of diverse students from different backgrounds and countries. They are really nice, they are always having fun and sharing knowledge about their countries, perspective and culture.
“I really wish to go to university having lessons face to face with teachers and classmates. I honestly worry for my end of year grade due to learning online the whole year. But I am attempting to adapt with online learning systems in order to get quality education and a reasonable grade.
“On a good point, I have already learned digital tools which we need to use in online classes. It also teaches me new adaptation skills which will be important for success in the future.
“I have a passion and determination to get quality education whatever situation I face.”
International universities and colleges, where Prospect Burma scholars are studying, are having to adapt to restrictions as the pandemic develops.
Issues include dealing with the logistics of getting students registered and in a place to study when borders are closed or lockdowns in place; and reworking curricula and teaching approach to embrace online remote learning. Here is the experience of a lecturer in Thailand, Dr Shirley Worland:
“We told our students not to go home when the semester finished earlier this year because we knew it was going to be hard for them to get back.
“First year grads are online but my colleague David is choosing to take live classes because some of the students are in Chiang Mai. He has five in the classroom and 14 online.
“I’ve already worked online with the Masters students at the beginning of the semester. We didn’t even try it for undergrads. Not just because of COVID but because the way we usually do the prep course for undergrads. It’s all about developing collegiality, so lots and lots of group activities.
“So we’ve put everything on hold till next semester hoping that we’ll get all of them on campus by then, though I’m not hopeful for that. They’ve definitely missed the group cohesion side of things. But at the same time the system Zoom has allowed some group projects to go ahead. All the lecturers have had training in this online teaching.
“In Thailand we’re following the government guidelines. They are accepting all the international students back. It’s just the cost of insurances and the state quarantine are very large. They were going to be allowed to cross the border by land. I was in the process of working with the embassy in Yangon to make that happen. But then there was the gigantic outbreak again in Myanmar so everything’s shut down again. We lost our window.
“We’re making sure the students are not going to be disadvantaged, in whatever way we can. And all the universities are doing this, we’ve all got a vested interest. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, it would be foolish to say that. But it’s the whole world that’s doing it, we’re not alone. The students are going to make it eventually. It will happen.”
Prospect Burma is maintaining contact with students in order to provide pastoral care. Sometimes this involves practical issues such as visas, travel or accommodation. At other times this involves providing emotional support: It is a big enough step for someone to leave home for a new country and culture for the first time, let alone face the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions.
Much of this work is done via telephone. Our team also facilitate online contact between students to help them support each other and cope with isolation. Here is Aung Nyein Chan’s experience:
“The kinds of call we have been receiving, it depends on the student’s situation.
“We have to manage the costing of students’ travels, their plans, but we cannot get the information from the universities or the governments.
“If students want to come back to Myanmar, of course the government welcomes them, but it’s not easy to then go back abroad to study in the future. So in that kind of situation we are trying to provide the accommodation fees or kinds of support the student needs to stay in their university city between semesters.
“Every day we have the announcement from the Ministry of Health and Sport, and every morning and evening on their Facebook page. Before, there were smaller figures for COVID, now in a few days this increases to double the number of positive cases across the whole of Myanmar.
“The government makes lockdowns in particular areas like the townships that have positive cases. If some people want to go outside to buy something, of course they’re allowed but not more than one person. If the person is going to see the doctor or the hospital, not more than two persons are allowed.
“When you go out of your house, you must wear a mask in public areas, especially the market and shopping areas. The government and civil society organisations are sharing and distributing information to the people. Some people in Yangon wear a mask but out of the city and out of the divisions, especially in the state areas, mostly they do not wear their masks.
“I am worried because there are many poor people living in high COVID areas, like Rakhine State. Day by day, many people have travelled from these areas to Yangon and different cities. So still the situation is dangerous.
“We are trying to help all the students as much as possible. We encourage them to stay safe, in a safe place – if you are in a place that’s safe, just be there.
“So whatever kind of difficulties or support you need from Prospect Burma, we try to support them.”
If you’d like to contribute to our work to help people in Myanmar gain the knowledge and skills the country desperately needs to face challenges like COVID-19, you can donate directly online. Thank you.