Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Working with Non-State Groups to Help All Children Get an Education

Jessica Aumann and U Thet Naing, UNICEF Myanmar 

Mi Pon Rod (left), aged 15, with Teacher Mi Htaw Are Lwe, Andin High School, Mon State
School was not always easy for Mi Pon Rod. “I attended Government School up to Grade 4” she said, “but I found it difficult to understand Myanmar language and couldn’t follow the lessons well”.

Fifteen year-old Mi Pon Rod is now in Grade 6 at Andin High School in Ye Township, Mon State. Her family is from the Mon ethnic group and she speaks Mon language at home.

“My parents work in rubber plantations and three years ago my family moved to this area. I started going to Mon National Education Committee (MNEC) primary school where I restarted my learning from Grade 2”, she recalled.  “I find it easy to learn here because I understand the lessons, which are taught in Mon language.”

“Mon speaking children often find it difficult when they join the government school and are regarded as slow learners, which makes them feel inferior and leads to drop out”, explained 18 year old MNEC teacher Mi Htaw Are Lwe. “I want to help Mon Children get an equal opportunity for education, the same as children who attend the government schools”.

Mi Htaw Are Lwe with Grade 2 Primary Student
Non-State Education

The Mon National Education Committee (MNEC) is the education branch of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), a non-state actor that plays a prominent role in public affairs in that state. The MNEC has established a large number of schools throughout the state, which have historically served communities living in conflict zones and areas controlled by NMSP. Since the ceasefire agreements of the 1990s, MNEC schools have also been set up in areas where state schools are active.

MNEC not only provides teaching in ethnic minority languages particularly Mon language, but also covers Mon history and plays a role in preserving Mon culture.

“I feel proud to send to my son to Mon School”, said the mother of one of the primary students at Popawaddy Mon Secondary school in Ye. “All the curriculum is the same as the government school, but the Mon school gives my child a better chance to learn her mother language and to learn Mon history.”

Most MNEC schools are primary-level -- Mi Pon Rod attends one of two High Schools run by the MNEC. Students who want to come here often board in a hostel arranged by the school.

“I would like to continue my learning in MNEC Schools until I complete my matriculation exam [grade 11]”, said Mi Pon Rod. “I like the teachers here and I would like to be an MNEC teacher one day.”

Barriers to Learning

Located in south-eastern Myanmar, students from Mon State often achieve top results in the national board examinations at the end of secondary school. Nevertheless, many children in Mon continue to have some of their most basic needs unmet. Barriers to education include issues of language, poverty, migration and child labour, long distances to school in rural areas, and low quality of education, which can make schooling seem irrelevant.

“We need to improve the quality of education by building better schools, increasing the ratio of teachers to students and reforming the exam system”, clarified Mi Hlaing Non, a programme coordinator for the MNEC.  “Making Child-Friendly schools needs more than just having a curriculum and teacher training”.

Improving Quality Education for All Children

The Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP) has been working closely with both the Mon State Government and with the MNEC to improve access to quality primary-level education for all children in the State. This is done through upstream policy advocacy work with the government and other stakeholders; and by delivering essential training and supplies at the ground level.

MNEC teachers now attend QBEP-supported head teacher training and teacher training on topics such as Child-Friendly Schools alongside their government counterparts. QBEP also supports critical supplies and infrastructure such as WASH facilities to schools that have the most needs. For example, 55 schools were supported in Ye township, including 15 MNEC schools.

“These education goods are great quality and students and parents value them’’, commented Naing Mon Manei, Head teacher of Andin High School. “What we mainly need is funding for infrastructure, we received some WASH support from QBEP and that was a really big help for us’’ he added. 

MNEC Teachers take part in CFS training with government teachers in Ye township
Bringing Partners Together

Advocacy work with the State Government, MNEC and Civil Society representatives has culminated in the formation of the Mon State Education Sector Coordination committee bringing all these stakeholders together. The committee is co-chaired by UNICEF and the State Government of Myanmar.

The first meeting of this committee was held on 11 February, 2015 in a large and breezy school building in Mawlamyine. This was one of the first times the State Government, the MNEC and NGOs had come together since the most recent ceasefire agreement in 2011. As of September 2015, three such coordination meetings have been held with each Township Education Office presenting their results and challenges.  

“We intend to create a platform for education professionals across all ethnic groups to promote a quality education system and to support peacebuilding”, said Anne-Cecile Vialle, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office for the Southeast of Myanmar. “And we are putting the Mon State Government in the driving seat of this coordination”. 

Participants at the Mon State Education Sector Coordination meeting
The State Director, U Myo Tint Aung, opened the meeting by saying “all the people here today please feel free to negotiate and discuss freely and openly about our work in 2015 and 2016”.

This sentiment of openness and transparency was echoed by Mi Hlaing Non, MNEC representative, who thinks this group will be positive for education programming in Mon.

“The challenges will be overcoming the history of armed conflict between the NMSP and the Government”, Mi Hlaing Non reflected. “There have been many ideas and perspectives and research shared today, I would like to see it go into action.”

The Mon State Education Sector Coordination committee has now agreed to meet quarterly to continue to improve education for all children in Mon.

The Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP) aims to support the Government of Myanmar to improve access to, and quality of, school readiness and primary level education for all children. QBEP is supported by the Multi Donor Education Fund (MDEF), comprising Australia, Denmark, the European Union, Norway and the United Kingdom, and by UNICEF, which is the implementing agency for the programme.

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