Supporting education amid Myanmar’s forgotten conflicts

Supporting education amid Myanmar’s forgotten conflicts

Dec 6, 2019

Kachin State, in northern Myanmar, is blessed with abundant natural beauty, from snow-capped peaks to rivers and inland lakes. But this outdoor paradise is also a no-man’s land, cursed by an ongoing conflict between armed ethnic groups and the Myanmar military. 

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), as of July 2019, fighting had forced more than 97,000 people to flee their homes and seek shelter in one of the state’s 138 camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).

School away from school

For IDPs, life is challenging, and young people in particular struggle to make sense of the trauma they have experienced. Education is therefore a key part of post-conflict recovery. But filling classrooms in Kachin’s camps is not easy. Many parents are unaware of the stabilizing role education plays in recovery and choose not to send their kids to school. Other challenges include insufficient school supplies, a lack of furniture, and severe weather that can make traveling to school treacherous.

And yet, by far the biggest issue is finding enough teachers.

“Even when children are in classrooms and ready to learn, having qualified teachers in camp schools is a major challenge,” says Roi Ji, People in Need’s Education Specialist in Kachin State. “Not every teacher is allowed or wants to teach in camp schools,” Roi says, in part because the camps are located in very remote areas, including non-government-controlled regions along the Myanmar-China border.

Education in Emergencies

To address these issues, PIN’s Education in Emergencies project collaborates with local partners in Kachin, including the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), which supports local development. Among KBC’s programs is its Education Volunteer initiative, which trains teachers and provides them with subsistence allowances through the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund (MHF). As part of the program, volunteers spend 40 days learning to teach academic syllabuses and textbooks, and how to provide psychosocial support for displaced children.

The results have been remarkable. “I never imagined I would be a teacher or teaching kids in the schools for displaced people; I just wanted to volunteer and contribute to a good cause,” says Sut Ring Awng, a volunteer teacher currently working at Sha-it Yang Middle School in Wine Maw Township.

Sut Ring Awng joined the volunteer program after seeing a recruitment announcement at his church. And although he’d never taught before, colleagues and KBC trainers helped him gain the skills and confidence he needed. Now he is teaching geometry to students in Grades 6, 7 and 8, and after just five months on the job, he’s developed an interest in teaching full time.

Still, Sut concedes there is much work to be done. “The capacity of teachers still needs to be built up to provide better education for children,” he says. “In my opinion, most teachers [working in the IDP camps], like myself, are not trained enough to teach effectively and to deliver quality education.” Another problem is high demand. So far, roughly 45 volunteer teachers have been trained, but the program still has more requests for educators than it can fill.

School supplies for young scholars

Camp schools are undeniably worse off than schools in nearby towns. That’s why in addition to teacher trainings, PIN’s Education in Emergencies program, with support from MHF, also distributes supplies to children in 21 schools from eight townships in government and non-government controlled parts of Kachin and Northern Shan states. To date, more than 2,200 children have received backpacks, stationary, and raincoats as part of the program.

Ten-year-old Hpaurip Numri San Pan is one of them. “I am very happy to receive pencils, notebooks and raincoats,” she said recently as she zipped up her raincoat.

Parents play an important role in children’s education

Hpaurip’s parents are happy, too, she says, which is a key reason why programs like this one succeed. Education teams from PIN and KBC frequently meet with parents to discuss their children’s education. “During these meetings, we raise awareness about the importance of education for children while trying to understand parents’ reasons for not sending their children to school,” says Roi.

By listening to parents, education providers can understand the challenges families face and address the impediments to school attendance. The education team also organizes parent-teacher feedback sessions to track children’s academic and personal development.

Class is in session!

It hasn’t been easy, but with the help of many dedicated people, classes are in session at IDP camps across Kachin. Despite limited resources and a history of trauma, children like Hpaurip are once again dreaming big. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up because I want to treat my parents when they are sick,” she says. PIN and our partners are committed to keeping dreams like this one alive.

Author: Lynn Theingi, PIN Myanmar Communication Officer