03 December is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The day reminds us that children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in society, facing daily discrimination in the form of negative attitudes and barriers to accessing services and opportunities. Our vision is to build a world where every child can grow up healthy, protected from harm and educated, so they can reach their full potential.
|Aung Thu Phyo came to School #19 in Hlaingtaryar Township, which is supported by the Quality Basic Education Programme, after being rejected from a different school because of his disability.|
I have always been eager to understand how UNICEF’s national level policy work affects the daily lives of children in the field. Since I joined the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO) last December as an Education Officer, I have witnessed regional initiatives such as evidence-based policy advocacy and capacity building of government officials. I have also had opportunities to learn about UNICEF Country Office work at the national level, but I had not yet had a chance to see UNICEF’s programmes in the field. So, I was keen to find the link between national work and the impact on children on the ground during my first field visit.
In Myanmar, I visited a school in Hlaingtaryar Township whose teachers had received trainings in Child Friendly Schools (CFS) and School Self-Assessment/School Improvement Planning (SSA/SIP) with the support of the Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP), implemented by UNICEF.
Positive changes from QBEP trainings
Hlaing Thayar Township is about an hour’s drive from Yangon, the majority of the population work in factories and a large number of people migrate to this township from other parts of the country to seek work. In school #19 I met Daw Aye Aye San, Head Teacher. She recalls 2012 as a landmark year for the school when the entire faculty of 19 teachers received trainings in CFS and both her and another teacher received training in SSA/SIP. In 2013, three teachers including Daw Aye Aye San also attended a refresher CFS training on quality improvement, and they passed along their learnings to the other teachers in the school.
|Daw Aye Aye San (right) has been working at Primary School #19 for the past 10 years. She provided critical leadership for establishment of the Committee on School Improvement after receiving QBEP training.|
The Committee has also addressed equity issues by providing additional exercise books and stationery to 100 children with one parent or no parents. Non Formal Primary Education has been delivered to 15 children who are not in regular school and 10 “Food Days” are planned, where children receive nutritious food at school. A water purification facility was also planned but proved too expensive to afford. Lastly, with help of other NGOs, the Committee is supporting the two children in the school who have been identified as having a disability.
Meet Aung Thu Phyo
|Aung Thu Phyo|
Supporting children with disabilities in the school is done in collaboration with two NGOs and includes activities such as building ramps for wheelchair users. QBEP’s role has been pivotal in this change in that it was the Committee for School Improvement that recognised the needs of the children who have disabilities and decided to address them. To me, this is a perfect example of how QBEP's work can yield positive changes for children.
I also wonder if it was the CFS approach, which emphasises child-centred teaching methods such as group activities, that has brought Aung Thu Phyo closer to his classmates. It was delightful to see all these changes. Having observed UNICEF work only at the regional and national levels, I have always wondered how the organisation impacts change on the ground. Primary School #19 has fulfilled my curiosity.
So what next?
Is providing teacher and head teacher trainings sufficient? The teachers I met commented that a refresher training in CFS had been useful in helping them to fully understand the CFS approach. These teachers believe the CFS method is good for children, the children in their classes have become more active and are not afraid of expressing their ideas. However, the teachers also reported that it is challenging to apply CFS methods whilst also trying to follow the national curriculum as CFS approaches tend to take more time than traditional teaching methods. The fact that there are 70-80 students per class puts an extra burden on teachers. The teachers were also concerned by how well the children will do at the next government exams at the end of grade 5. Although, it seems they need not worry and these classes will be well prepared to pass their exams - 70% of students have passed their first mock exam and for those 30% who failed, the school is providing extra lessons.
A notable achievement from this initiative is that the school now has an official space and mechanism where teachers, parents and students can discuss and contemplate ways to improve the school. Establishment of the Committee on School Improvement can be seen as the first step towards a better learning environment for children.
Needless to say, QBEP’s trainings have positively affected school #19. But such positive changes can be sustained only with appropriate infrastructure and policies. It is important that feedback from the field – from UNICEF field officers, teachers and NGO partners – is reflected in national level policy advocacy in order to bring positive changes to communities throughout the country.
The Myanmar Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP) is supported by the Multi Donor Education Fund (MDEF), comprising Australia, Denmark, the European Union, Norway and the United Kingdom, and by UNICEF.