Myanmar reforms start with training new generation of student teachers
Something extraordinary is happening in Yankin Education College’s reception hall. Hundreds of teacher educators are in attendance, some playing games while others are laughing and talking in small groups around flipchart displays. They are learning, but they are also having fun.
The scene is a microcosm of Myanmar’s ongoing education reforms. Normally training activities like this would involve teachers lecturing in front of a classroom, sharing rote, mechanical lessons based on outdated curriculum. Starting in December, however, Education Colleges across Myanmar will be implementing the next phase in teacher education reforms based on the new four-year teaching degree curriculum.
After gaining independence from British rule, the education system in Myanmar was a model of excellence in the Asia-Pacific. Many believed the country was heading the way of other Asian Tigers at the time. During the 1960s, however, the sector like so many others was turned upside-down. Not only was education severely underfunded, but also teaching became a job that lacked the satisfaction and prestige previously enjoyed, leading to the decline of the system as a whole.
There are now 25 Education Colleges (ECs) addressing these issues with 2,000 teacher educators training 13,000 basic education student teachers. After graduation, these student teachers will work in 47,000 schools nationwide, educating an estimated 9 million primary and lower secondary students.
Ensuring that millions of young Myanmar students receive a quality, inclusive education that prepares them for 21st-century challenges requires immense reforms at all levels of the education system. The Ministry of Education has prioritized teacher education, recognizing the importance of improving the quality of teachers for raising the quality of education and student learning outcomes.
Teacher educators such as U Thet Oo, a member of the Curriculum Core Team from Yankin Education College, are the backbone of this reform. The wide smile on his face seen in pictures is the same he uses while leading discussions of pre-service teacher education reform and teaching theory. In October and November 2019, he is travelling more than 3,000 kilometers with a team of national and international trainers to assist 2,000 teacher educators on the revised Education College Year 1 Semester 1 curriculum.
“We are having fruitful discussions with educators from different Education Colleges,” U Thet Oo said. “Seeing young teacher educators exploring education delights me most and I feel privileged to train the younger generation.”
Before the 2019-2020 school year, the curriculum teacher educators had been following included textbooks outdated by 20 years that did not prioritize information needed for basic education, promoted rote memorization instead of critical thinking, and did not schedule adequate time for teachers to practise what they learned in a classroom setting.
To bring the curriculum up to international standards, UNESCO has been supporting the Ministry of Education on curriculum development and training through the Strengthening pre-service Teacher Education in Myanmar (STEM) project. With funding from the governments of Australia, Finland and the UK, UNESCO is assisting broad education sector reform by providing technical assistance to the project.
Since 2018, U Thet Oo has been supporting the design of the new four-year, pre-service teacher education curriculum. In cooperation with UNESCO, he and his colleagues have been developing and revising the Education College syllabi, teacher-educator guides and student-teacher textbooks to accommodate an expanded four-year degree programme. Along with new materials, the programme also addresses weaknesses found in the previous system through emphasis on learning through practise, specialized primary and middle-school degree tracks, and reducing the breadth of knowledge covered to prioritize depth of learning.
“The most important thing I think for others to realize is why the reforms have been done, how to carry them out and then for us to implement them with zeal,” U Thet Oo said. During the curriculum workshops, he and his colleagues are helping Education College staff learn exactly that.
Over 10 days of training, clusters of 150 to 300 teacher educators from neighbouring ECs come together to learn why education reforms are necessary, how they are being implemented, and inspire each other to implement the changes. The workshops cover topics including teacher education reform, the new Education College curriculum, inclusion, gender equality, education for sustainable development, teaching and learning strategies, assessment, ICT integration into teaching practices, and a competency-based approach to teaching the new curriculum.
Implementing such large-scale reforms is not an easy task and maintaining teacher educators’ enthusiasm will need enhanced support from projects like STEM. Comprehensive policy on teachers needs to be developed, while the management of Education Colleges needs strengthening, which are both areas where UNESCO is working with the Ministry to improve.
These efforts together along with the active involvement of teacher educators will determine the success of teacher education reforms. “We feel excited about the changes, they are what we have been longing for,” U Thet Oo said. “Everything recently happening to ECs is moving toward improvement.”
By Stephanie Roach, an intern with the UNESCO STEM and CapEd teams, and Aye Win Myint, National Communication Consultant for the UNESCO Education Unit.
* This article was first published in The Myanmar Times