Myanmar’s online pre-service teacher education reform offers new opportunity
To contain the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide have closed education institutions and limited face-to-face interactions. This posed a significant risk to education reform in Myanmar, where the ongoing curriculum development process heavily depended on in-person meetings and workshops.
With the support of UNESCO and highly motivated team members, however, the curriculum development team swiftly moved these workshops online. These efforts allowed the curriculum development process to continue, setting the stage for uninterrupted education reform in Myanmar.
As of 22 April, UNESCO reported that 191 countries had closed schools, affecting more than 1.5 billion students from pre-primary to tertiary education. In Myanmar, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on 23 March, which led to the closure of schools, colleges and universities. Among the affected institutions were also the 25 Education Colleges where 2,000 teacher educators train 13,000 student teachers nationwide.
Students, teachers and non-teaching staff alike were sent to their hometowns – putting a halt to their activities and education. However, COVID-19 did not stop all education-related activities in Myanmar. Amid this global crisis, Myanmar’s efforts to reform pre-service teacher education continue with intensity.
Since 2014, UNESCO has been a partner of the Ministry of Education (MoE) in strengthening pre-service teacher education in Myanmar (STEM). Under the STEM project, UNESCO supports the MoE in improving the management of teacher education, including through a stronger integration of ICT, and a focus on inclusion in teacher education. UNESCO also provides technical support to the MoE on curriculum reform for pre-service teacher and education teacher policy.
Education Colleges have already implemented Year 1 of the new curriculum in the 2019-2020 academic year, starting from December 2019. The curriculum for Year 2 has been under development since July 2019 and is scheduled to be implemented starting in December 2020. However, the COVID-19 outbreak presents major challenges to the curriculum development process.
Prior to the outbreak, the syllabi and teaching and learning resources were developed in face-to-face workshops and small group meetings. These brought together everyone involved in the development of the Year 2 curriculum, including teacher educators from all 25 Education Colleges and universities, international and national curriculum authors, and experts. In brainstorming exercises and discussions, participants would agree on the teaching contents and pedagogical approaches. Issues concerning inclusion, gender equality, and education for peace and sustainable development particularly profited from inputs gathered during these exchanges.
With the onset of COVID-19, however, the liveliness of these workshops came to a halt as face-to-face meetings were no longer an option. To overcome this obstacle, the STEM project team quickly shifted workshops to the virtual realm.
©UNESCO STEM curriculum development and communication team
With technical support from UNESCO and ICT teacher educators from the 25 Education Colleges, two curriculum development videoconferences were organized in March and May. During these conferences, the curriculum development team scrutinized every word of the Year 2 curriculum as part of the critical revision process. The curriculum development workshops then became curriculum development videoconferences.
The first of those conferences was held over the last week of March, the first time for the 25 Education Colleges to participate in an online conference. The occasion showcased the many challenges of conducting such discussions online. Participants encountered issues related to connectivity, dialing into the conference and use of the necessary software.
With regard to connectivity, participant face two main obstacles: First, unscheduled power outages still occur frequently in Myanmar, limiting conference participation to the remaining battery charge. Second, internet coverage is not comprehensive, and especially in rural areas large gaps persist. On Bilu Island in Mon State, for example, one curriculum development team member had to dial into the videoconference from the local communications office, in order to have a stable internet connection.
Another major issue is the dissemination of the documents under discussion. At the former face-to-face workshops, hard copies of the curriculum drafts were handed out for participants to pore over. Due to the sudden change in modality, however, it was not possible to similarly provide hard copies for the videoconferences. With 49% of participants joining the conferences from their phones and accessing the 100+ page documents on their mobile devices, this considerably slowed down the progress of the discussion.
UNESCO responded to the newly identified needs of conference participants and guided them through the unfamiliar modality. For participants who still were unable to connect via videoconferencing, UNESCO offered additional channels to participate through other tools. The STEM project team turned this challenge into an opportunity to build the ICT skills of the curriculum development team.
During the second online conference, held in the middle of May, participants were already much more comfortable and confident conducting the discussion online. This impression is supported by evaluation results, with the share of people finding the teleconferences “very useful” to review the curriculum, increasing by 8 percentage points, from 54% to 62%, between the two conferences.
Apart from the two curriculum development videoconferences, a webinar on how to mainstream inclusive practices into the curriculum was also moved into cyberspace. On 8 May, more than 150 curriculum developers and other participants joined the webinar, where they engaged in a discussion on the best methods to incorporate inclusion into the curriculum. At the end of the day, the STEM project team had made another step towards finalizing and rolling out an inclusive Year 2 curriculum for teacher education.
These videoconferences, challenging though they were, demonstrated the value of this new meeting modality for the curriculum development process. They also strengthened the ICT skills of team members,bringing twenty-first century skills to life in the curriculum development process.
As the STEM project team has learned, modern means of communication enable project work to continue, even as virtually all other areas of life came to a halt. Yet, it is important to remember that the success of these videoconferences cannot be attributed only to new technologies. They would not have been possible without the dedication and passion of the 150 curriculum development team members, whose willingness to adapt and commitment to the curriculum development process was crucial to their success. This experience shows that the motivation of teacher educators to continue the education reform process remains unchanged, even in the midst of the global pandemic.
Main photo caption: Student teachers greet a teacher educator before the coronavirus outbreak.
(©UNESCO STEM curriculum development and communication team)