Deaf rapper shares his dream with Myanmar students with disabilities
It's not just music, more like a movement
You call it a joke, but we're steadily proving
There ain't no limit to what dreams can do
You can do more with what life hands you
The Finnish rapper Signmark – the first deaf musician signed to an international record label – had that simple yet profound message for students in Yangon. Marking International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, the musician met with teacher educators and student teachers from Thingangyun Education College as well as students and teachers from four schools for children with disabilities.
The event delivered a serious message, but with a healthy dose of fun. The event was headlined by Signmark and fellow musician Adam Tensta, whose performance underscored the possibilities for deaf persons when conventional thinking on their limitations is challenged. The rapper’s key message was that persons using sign language, as a linguistic cultural minority, are entitled to rights and protections, and he also addressed the need for inclusion in schools. Among the first steps, he said, is ensuring that sign language instructors are available in government schools.
Another theme was the importance and value-added dimension of including students with disabilities in schools and in pre-service teacher education, for their own benefit but also for society as a whole. The event was a case in point, with students from all the schools giving musical and dance performances. Students from the Mary Chapman School for the Deaf performed the traditional Myanmar ‘Bagan Princess Dance’, while those from the School for Disabled Children and School for the Deaf demonstrated modern dance. Students from the Yangon Blind School sang the ‘Mya Nandar Song’ and student teachers from the education college joined them with an accompanying dance.
With the theme ‘empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusion and equality in education’, the event was organized by the UNESCO Myanmar Project Office in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and the Embassy of Finland in Myanmar, as part of the ‘Strengthening Pre-Service Teacher Education in Myanmar’ (STEM) project, funded by the governments of Finland, Australia and the United Kingdom. The STEM project supports the Myanmar Ministry of Education’s pre-service teacher education reform with a focus on mainstreaming inclusion in teacher education policy, curriculum and institution management.
The event featured opening remarks by the Ambassador of Finland to Myanmar, Her Excellency Riikka Laatu, as well as the Deputy Director-General for the Department of Higher Education, Dr May San Yee, and Min Jeong Kim, UNESCO Myanmar Head of Office. All three speakers emphasized the importance of inclusive education to fulfil the rights of persons with disabilities in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.
A following panel discussion highlighted a vision for inclusive education shared by teachers from three schools for children with disabilities and the retired principal of Thingangyun Education College, Daw Khin Thuzar Saw. ‘I believe we can train teachers successfully to practice inclusive education with the right training, methodology and materials,’ she said, welcoming the introduction of inclusive education in the new Teacher Education College curriculum and a policy to accept student teachers with disabilities.
‘A related subject to inclusive education is now included in our 1st year curriculum,’ Daw Khin Thuzar Saw was quoted by Myanmar ITV as saying. ‘I really welcome that, because in the past, disabled persons were not allowed to become teachers. But starting last year, we accept everyone. However, after accepting them, we need competent teachers who can train them well, and the methodology and the materials. I believe we can train them successfully to include children who want to come into our profession if these needs are met.’
Reverend U Thaung Kyi, the Deputy Secretary at the Yangon Blind School, said he had been able to begin his education as a blind person starting only at age 14, and even then only because of a charity school. Everyone has a fundamental right to education, he added, and to have access and be able to participate and achieve in schools.
The students in attendance stood as testimony that Myanmar has made considerable progress in recent years, although more needs to be done. Daw Yi Mar Tin, the Assistant Director at the School for Disabled Children, spoke of how her school ensures inclusive education by adapting teaching methods and methodology for each student’s different needs; teachers prepare for different teaching methods ahead of their lessons.
‘For example, when the students starts writing, teachers have to give them a flipchart and let them draw first, then use computer games so they come to be interested to read and write,’ she said. ‘Then they start to write in the paper. The teaching approach and methodology are not the same for everyone, as they have different needs. Teachers should know this reality and prepare to adjust their teaching in class.’
Addressing a subject emphasized by Signmark, Daw Naw Bway Say Wah, Consultant for Literature and Language Development for the Deaf at the Mary Chapman School, shared how a supportive environment is key for deaf students. ‘Support from parents, peers and teachers are the main needs for creating a supportive environment for students to learn,’ she said. ‘Another factor is that in the formal education system, the deaf students need to be interpreting sign language. However, teachers who can’t sign make it hard for both teaching and learning. A special education course could be offered for this in the future.’
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been commemorated since 1992 to promote awareness and mobilize support for critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development. The day promotes action to raise awareness about disability issues and draw attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible society for all.
By Naw Ray May Dee, Xinyi Zhang, Emily De and Nicole Starkey
Photo credits: Naw Ray May Dee and Suvi Rivinoja