“We recognise we have a long way to go materially to create schools such as UWCSEA. However, spiritually and intellectually we can perceive shared philosophies that bolster our courage to continue to work towards a vibrant and progressive education system that enables children to realise their potential as individuals and as participate citizens.”
Venerable U Nayaka
Monastic Education Development Group, Myanmar
UWCSEA’s Teacher to Teacher (T2T) training project responds to the needs of non-governmental organisations working to improve the quality of education available to very needy children in Myanmar and Cambodia. It takes an abundant resource—UWCSEA teachers’ skill in teaching—and through the donation of their time and expertise, applies it to support the development of teachers working in challenging circumstances.
One group of UWCSEA teachers is currently working with the Monastic Education Development Group (MEDG) in Myanmar. An elected group of senior monks representing all states and divisions in Myanmar, the MEDG members have agreed to undertake reform of the monastic school system. This includes setting minimum teaching competencies and supporting capacity building, infrastructure support and the development of management and leadership.
The development of minimum teaching competencies is the area in which T2T is involved, and will provide a starting point for an agreed set of teacher standards in areas including child-centred teaching approaches, assessment, curriculum development and technology education. The competencies will form part of a minimum training package for all teachers in MEDG schools—who, at the moment, are not required to have a certificate in education. They are generally recruited from the local area—sometimes former students of the school in which they now work—with little or no additional education. Operational costs are based on local donations, and although the government has recently begun to support the salaries of teachers in monastic schools, resources remain limited with many teachers working voluntarily or for a limited stipend of approximately US$10–15 per month.
Monastery-based schools offer free education including textbooks, basic stationery, and in some cases, school lunch programmes to 300,000 of Myanmar’s poorest children in around 1,700 schools. The schools are open to all children regardless of religion or ethnicity, although students come primarily from needy Burman and Buddhist families and marginalised groups who are not otherwise able to access government schools. While the monastic schools follow the same curriculum as the government schools, many also lack basic facilities, teaching and learning materials, and have inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities. Most are primary schools; very few extend to offer secondary
The MEDG reform work is part of a larger initiative, the Myanmar Education Consortium (MEC) of which Burnet Institute (an Australian-based NGO working in long-term health improvement for poor and vulnerable communities internationally) is a founding member, along with Save the Children and World Vision.
This year, UWCSEA teachers have visited Mandalay in Myanmar twice, to work with colleagues from the MEDG to help develop their teacher training programme. A delegation of MEDG members including monks, teacher trainers, and representatives of NGOs also visited the Dover Campus from 18–20 March to learn more about how a modern educational system works. The delegation had a rich and thought provoking three days, and through conversation, presentations and observations, developed a solid understanding of UWCSEA, “We saw how vision and mission are enacted in myriad practical ways throughout the school environment so that teaching and learning can happen integral to whole school operations, amongst every member of the student body and the staff.”
The Venerable U Nayaka who led the MEDG delegation to Dover Campus summed up their visit, “We may continue to teach and learn under the trees but what we teach, how we teach and what we learn will never be the same again.” When we consider that the 14 monks who visited UWCSEA are collectively responsible for the learning of over 15,000 students, the potential impact of their visit is immense.