Everyone has the right to education: Myanmar Non-Formal Education Photo Essay
The more than 100 factories in Myanmar’s Hlaing Thar Yar Township draw migrant workers from across the country and the township’s location between Yangon and Ayeyarwady Divisions make it a popular temporary home for mobile families looking for work. While employment opportunities may abound, education prospects for many of the children of these families can be grim.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, there were 284,278 children known to be out of school in Myanmar in 2014 – 5.5% of the country’s population. One of the factors contributing to this trend in Hlaing Thar Yar is the need for youth to work at an early age. A 2015 assessment by the International Labour Organization shows that many 13-15 year-old children in the township work over four hours a day, mainly to support their families.
Non-formal education (NFE) can be a lifeline to education for these learners. To mark Human Rights Day, UNESCO Bangkok spoke to children and teachers in Hlaing Thar Yar NFE programmes about what education means to them.
Shyne, front, with classmates. He believes that “everyone should have a second chance in their lives”. Children who are not in school should have other options to learn because education is the basis for the realization of other fundamental rights.
Shyne, 17, sells food and drink to truck drivers on a highway – demanding and dangerous work, but the only means he has of supporting his family. He works from morning until early afternoon before leaving for a school near his home in Hlaing Thar Yar, an industrial zone on Yangon’s northwestern outskirts, where he attends a two-year Non-formal Middle School Education (NFMSE) programme that will allow him to transfer to a formal upper secondary school upon completion.
Shyne is also hearing impaired, compounding the challenges he faces in accessing education, but nonetheless remains determined to go to class.
“Despite these difficulties, I come to study almost every day because I love class discussions,” he says. “They help me to better understand my friends’ perspectives and learn to respect them.”
“Everyone should have a second chance in their lives,” Shyne 17.
Despite his hearing disability, Shyne feels supported by his classmates and teachers and enjoys coming to the centre.
“When I moved to Hlaing Thar Yar three years ago, I heard there were many jobs here because it was a satellite township. I thought that my family could stay long enough for me to complete my education,” Myat, 15 says.
Her plan did not go as intended. She was unable to obtain a card granting her permission to transfer from her previous school and as a result the schools in Hlaing Thar Yar refused to accept her.
“I was worried a lot about my future when I was told that I could not transfer to a school here and started working at the factory. I did not like my life as a factory worker.”
Myat started having stress headaches every day and feeling depressed shortly after starting work at the factory and says she received almost no emotional support from her colleagues, who blamed and scolded her for even the smallest mistakes.
“However, since I joined the [NFMSE] centre, I’ve received lots of encouragement and a sense of belonging from my classmates and teachers,” she says. “I feel more confident now. I stopped worrying because I want to do so many things. I do not want to waste my time.”
Myat, 15, with her younger brother, who also recently joined the NFMSE program. Myat became ill working in a garment factory to support her family until she joined the programme.
“I’ve received lots of encouragement and a sense of belonging from my classmates and teachers. I stopped worrying because I want to do so many things. I do not want to waste my time,” Myat 15.
Just like his classmate, Shyne, Moe spends at least four hours a day on a highway selling food to drivers. He attends the NFMSE program as often as possible, but admits that it is not easy.
“Spending a whole morning selling food on a highway is physically and mentally tiring. Sometimes I really don’t want to come to the centre,” he says. “But I come because I know I will have very limited options in the future if I quit studying now. I want to enjoy every bit of my life by achieving my life goals.”
“I come because I know I will have very limited options in the future if I quit studying now,” Moe, 13.
Myat Myat Su, NFMSE Teacher, Hlaing Thar Yar Township
Myat Myat Su believes that education is the basis of cultivating important characteristics in students, such as grit and determination.
“One thing I learned from teaching my students is that students with grit are more likely to fight for their rights,” she says. “Grit is not something people are innately born with but can be obtained through education.”
Daw Yi Yi Mint, NFPE Centre Head, Thaketa Township
Daw Yi Yi Mint says NFE programmes provide out-of-school children with support they may not find elsewhere and safe and protective environments.
She gives the example of girls in the area who are often married off even before they reach puberty.
“I have seen some of my female students, who are determined to stay at the centre, voice their concerns to their parents and refuse to get married,” she says. “Many of them were able to complete the programme and are now working hard to achieve their dreams.”
Daw Aye Aye Khine, Myanmar Literacy Resource Centre (MLRC)
Daw Aye Aye Khine, who works with UNESCO partner organization the MLRC, believes the ability to think is one of the most important skills that children need to learn in order to fulfil their rights.
“Education helps children know what’s right and wrong, which is the first and most important step to understanding their rights as citizens and enjoying them fully,” she says. “Thinking skills are not something people can naturally pick up. It takes time and effort to learn and develop them.”
“Education helps children know what’s right and wrong, which is the first and most important step to understanding their rights as citizens and enjoying them fully,” Daw Aye Aye Khine
U Win Pe, Data Coordinator, MLRC
U Win Pe believes education is important to solve the issues of inequity and exclusion.
“The rights of certain groups to live in decent conditions and receive adequate health care and education are often unrecognized and unprotected. Through NFPE, we provide learning opportunities to children who are left out of the formal education system.”
UNESCO in action for out-of-school children
Education means more than simply literacy, numeracy, or a better-paying job. For youngsters like Shyne, Myat and Moe, it means a supportive, encouraging environment that helps them stay motivated and focused – to overcome the obstacles in front of them and reach their full potential and enjoy their rights.
Out-of-school children, like the ones we met in Hlaing Thar Yar, are vulnerable because they are more likely to be forced to work and are at risk of being exploited and deprived of opportunities. UNESCO’s goal is to evaluate these children’s situations and improve their lives by helping them to learn.
NFMSE students in Hlaing Thar Yar
There have been efforts to integrate NFE programmes into formal schools. The NFMSE programme that Shyne and Moe attend is held at a local school. The children pictured here attend a kindergarten held at the same school.
In Myanmar, UNESCO supports the country’s non-formal primary education (NFPE) programme and the piloting of the non-formal middle school education (NFMSE) programme. These programmes are designed specifically for out-of-school children, allowing them to learn outside the formal education system. Upon completion of the NFPE program, they can either transfer to a formal lower secondary school or continue studying at their township’s NFMSE centre. NFMSE graduates then either attend a formal upper secondary school or (re)-enter the job market.
These interviews were made possible with the dedicated support of U Win Pe from the Myanmar Literacy Resource Centre.
• ‘Before, I thought I could never study’: Myanmar learners on flexible learning’s benefits: http://www.unescobkk.org/news/article/before-i-thought-i-could-never-study-myanmar-learners-on-flexible-learnings-benefits/
• Lower Secondary Equivalency Programmes in Lao PDR and Myanmar: www.unescobkk.org/education/literacy-and-lifelong-learning/equivalency-programmes/
• Non-Formal Primary Education: mmnfpe.org
Story and photos by: Hyunjeong Lee