In Thailand, Helping Burma
The day before, Sister Euphresia and dozens of other teachers in this impoverished community crossed the nearby border into Thailand’s northernmost town of Mae Sai to take part in a special teacher training arranged by World Education in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, the first of several cross-border training initiatives. The teachers learned about the use of different educational tools, alternative teaching methods and curriculum development.
“We cannot get training like this in Burma, which is a very closed society. Outside ideas are still frowned upon,” Sister Euphresia says.
This morning, she is trying something new with her students. For the first time, she is using pictures and interactive games as part of her training.
“In Burma, the teachers tend to lecture a lot and children are not encouraged to participate or question things,” Sister Euphresia complains in a break. “The training taught us some methods to make the classroom more active. It gave me some ideas of how to use newspaper clippings, songs and games in the teaching.”
Sister Euphresia, who was transferred by her order to this area mainly populated by the Akha hill tribe, has a busy schedule. Her ordinary students include a group of children from a nearby school who are given special tutoring every morning, but she also teaches pre-school children in the convent’s nursery, as well as a group of orphans who receive sewing training.
“It is important that we help children here,” Sister Euphresia says. “They are very poor and by giving them education and vocational training, we are giving them a chance. A lot of young girls are sold across the border into the sex trade in Thailand, and we hope that we can help them by providing them skills and education.”
“Each child has different needs and we were taught how to identify children that are slower or quicker learners than the others. It is up to me to design tasks for these children.”
Under the U.S. government-funded “SHIELD” project, a partnership between the IRC, World Education and PATH, which aims to improve access to education and primary health care for Burmese refugees and migrants, World Education is currently providing training for some 6,000 mostly Burmese teachers across Thailand.
“Training teachers has a profound and immediate impact for the students and the future of Burma”, says Sandee Pyne, the IRC’s advocacy coordinator in Thailand. “The SHIELD program helps not only teachers living in Burma, but also provides education opportunities to thousands of Burmese refugees and migrants in Thailand.”
Linda, another teacher from a nearby village who also attended the training, says that outside input is very important to improve the standard of the education.
“We are teaching according to the national curriculum, but a lot of the teaching is based on memorizing things,” says Linda, who, like many Burmese, uses only one name. “The cross-border training has taught me that we can do simple things to make it more interactive and fun for the children. For example, instead of learning about fish in a classroom, we can go down to the pond and look at them. Leaving the classroom is not very common here and we must start to think about different ways to teach our children.”
“Even a game of football is useful, because it can increase communication and cooperation between students in other fields,” Linda continues. “I never thought of football like that before.”