Friday, June 24, 2016

A second chance at education produces first class results

By Kyaw Lwin Latt and Deirdre Naughton

Yangon, Myanmar- Kyaw Zaw Moe straightens his shirt and dips his head respectfully at the bottom step before he makes his way humbly but purposefully onto the stage at the Learning Hub, Yangon University of Education. He is greeted by rapturous applause from the audience, expressing their congratulations for his remarkable achievement. The applause emanates from the teacher who supported Kyaw Zaw Moe in his Sittwe school, to teachers across the Non-Formal primary Education network, to high-ranking Ministry of Education officials, all of whom are audience members. At 17, having earlier dropped out of school, he was given a second chance at education when he joined the Non-Formal Primary Education (NFPE) model, funded by the Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP) through UNICEF.

©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Deirdre Naughton

Kyaw Zaw Moe has succeeded where none of his family or classmates have before him: he attended two years of the NFPE programme, gained his equivalency certification, re-entered the formal school system and passed the matriculation exam at first attempt in this academic year- the first ever NFPE student to do so.

It is lightyears from his situation 8 years ago, in 2008, when he was only beginning his primary school life. With his father, a carpenter and his mother a dependent, poverty was a persistent presence in their household.  Kyaw Zaw Moe’s parents had to make the difficult decision to tell him that they could no longer afford to send him to school. “My brother was in grade 11 when I was in grade 1 and my mother asked me to drop out as she couldn’t support all of us”, Kyaw Zaw Moe recalls. His elder brother was chosen to stay in school. Kyaw Zaw Moe is one of four children, Tun Ther Sein (22), Zaw Khine Moe (19), Aye Mi Soe (14) and himself.

©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Deirdre Naughton

However, a teacher in Kyaw Zaw Moe’s No. 9 Basic Education Middle School in Sittwe, and former NFPE facilitator/Primary school teacher, had spotted the boy’s absence and was concerned. “I encouraged his parents and him to join the NFPE class as a second chance education”, Daw Yi Yi Naing recalls. Soon afterwards, Kyaw Zaw Moe started in NFPE Level 1 class, which was supported by the QBEP donors through UNICEF.

Daw Yi Yi Naing explains her story - from shy newly qualified teacher to an established NFPE advocate. “When I first joined NFPE classes and met those children from disadvantaged families, I didn’t even know how to make them comfortable in class. I noticed that they were shy and had a feeling of losing hope.” However, the situation changed gradually. ”The more I taught and engaged with them, the better I understood their life and their circumstance, and I was able to facilitate and engage with them to learn the lessons effectively”, she continues.

For Kyaw Zaw Moe, the NFPE centre offered a way to learn-and-earn where no option existed before. The flexible learning method allowed him to study from 6 pm to 8.30 pm in the evening, “after I have helped my mother out with the chores and jobs.”  He was able to save some money towards his dream of re-entering school again, after persevering with his NFPE studies.

Kyaw Zaw Moe continued his middle and high school level education at Basic Education High School in Sittwe. He took the chance to push and apply himself one hundred per cent. Through this hard work and determination he earned the top spot in his class.  “I also learned to admire my teachers, I look up to them now as role models. I know now that teaching is a very noble profession”, the young boy says.

Daw Yi YI was equally proud.  He is the first NFPE student to pass the matriculation exam on the first attempt in Myanmar, “which means the NFPE programme has shown its quality assurance,” she affirms.  “I feel much happier now than the time I passed my own matriculation, because my students had to overcome many challenges unlike me as I got full support from my family.”

NFPE provides a second chance education to children aged 10-14 who for a complexity of reasons have dropped out of the formal education system. “Since the outset of the QBEP in 2012, Second Chance Education has been a priority intervention area in meeting the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable children”, affirms Mitsue Uemura, UNICEF Chief of Education.  “In 2014 and 2015 alone, QBEP supported over 21,000 pupils to enroll in NFPE across 89 townships in Myanmar, 43 per cent of them girls.”  In addition, QBEP trained over 1,200 NFPE facilitators with the skills and knowledge needed to support these vulnerable children, provided refresher training for current facilitators, produced 25,000 translated copies of storybooks in 5 ethnic languages, and supported 35 NFPE students to produce One Minute Junior Videos documenting their experiences, challenges and lives in video format.

Now Kyaw Zaw Moe wants to be an example. “I developed a strong feeling for the other children who have to drop out of school, and I saw how much of a struggle it can be for some of the other students. I want to be able to show them that they can do it too”, he says.

“This is an opportunity, if you have the will, you can do it, and you can make your dreams come true, if you work very hard, you can be recognised. You are not alone, there are lots of students who experience problems and this is a way to help solve them,” he concludes.

The QBEP aims to support the Government of Myanmar to improve access to quality 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 in partnership with the Government of Myanmar.

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