Thursday, June 11, 2015

Give me a second chance for education!

Tomorrow, 12 June, is World Day Against Child Labour. The theme for 2015 is No to Child Labour - Yes to Quality EducationTo mark the day this is the first of two blogs on non-formal education in Myanmar...

Anne-Cecile with students from an EXCEL centre in Tayetchaung Township, Tanintharyi Region
The moment I enter the room I feel a stream of energy invading me. It must have been the frank smiles and energetic greetings of the 36 students I met! These students are all visibly different ages and from first sight their learning environment appeared so different from a traditional classroom with so many conventions floating in the air.

I was visiting one of the five EXCEL centres in Tayetchaung Township, Tanintharyi Region, which cater to 355 students for the 2014-2015 academic year. EXCEL is a programme of second-chance learning supported by the Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP). EXCEL focuses on enhancing literacy and on equipping young people who are not in school with knowledge and skills to protect themselves against specific risks related to HIV, early pregnancies, malaria and drugs amongst others.

In South-East Myanmar international migration for employment plays a big part in population dynamics, and child labour associated with the growing economy is common, so many children either never enrol in school, or drop out before they complete their schooling. 

Students at the EXCEL centre in Tayetchaung Township

When asked what he think about being part of the programme, compared to his friends who are not, 12 year old Ko Ta Pre says “now I know life skills, while the others do not know and may go the wrong way”. 

It has been striking to me, how much imagination and ambition these EXCEL students display in comparison to students attending regular schools. When asked what their dreams for the future are Ko Ta Pre says he wants to become a mason. 17 year old Pan Nui Chi 17 year-old dreams of becoming a clothes-designer, and 15 year old Pio Ni Ni wants to open a market store.

Cathy Soe, 15 years, wants to become hair dresser. She says “EXCEL has given me the skills of proper customer relations, essential health and hygienic behaviours that will enhance the quality of my services compared to other hair dressers”.

The difficulties families face in making a living is a core reason why these children have dropped out of school. Parents often move for extensive periods and take their children with them to work in fishing or agriculture. The proximity of relatively wealthy Thailand also makes it financially-attractive for parents to encourage their children to work instead of attend school.

For the EXCEL committee, which is composed of parents, facilitators and monitors, it is sometimes a difficult task to convince parents to send their children to EXCEL classes. Expressing the importance of basic education and giving examples of success stories of other EXCEL students can help. The extra advantage of the EXCEL system is that class hours can be negotiated with parents to leave some time for children to take part in income-generation activities as well as pursuing their education.

Today, a main challenge is to advocate for the mainstreaming of the EXCEL programme by the Ministry of Education and local education authorities, in order to promote sustainability of the programme in the long term. 

A single visit to one of these centres and an hour of conversation with these enthusiastic children, their parents and educators, should be sufficient to convince anyone of the immeasurable value of second-chance education to enable children to fulfil their potential and lead happier and healthier lives. 

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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