Thursday, January 26, 2017

Meeting children’s rights to education across the fire lines

Since the collapse of the ceasefire in mid-2011 in Kachin and northern Shan, ensuring access to quality basic education services for all children affected by conflict has remained a big challenge. With the current escalation of violence, education remains one of the most critical needs for conflict-affected children who live on both sides of the frontline in Myanmar.  

By Mariana Palavra, Communication Specialist

Kachin State - Life wasn’t always easy for 32 year-old Hkawng Nyoi, who lives in Chipwe Township, in an area controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation. Her mother died from malaria when she was 7 years old and her father, who was retired from the army, passed away some four years later. Then, she moved to her eldest brother’s house. 

32 year-old Hkawng Nyoi is a ECD volunteer teacher
©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Khine Zar Mon
“Since becoming an orphan at a very young age, I always wished all children to have a chance in life”, explains Hkawng Nyoi. Probably for that reason, “I decided to be a teacher when I was 15 years old”.

Although she had to drop her studies in grade 11, as her brother couldn’t afford tuition classes anymore, Hkawng Nyoi didn’t quit her dream. One year later, she became an early childhood development (ECD) volunteer teacher. 

This was in 2000, “the beginning of my dream”, she says. However, as a teacher, she faced significant challenges, namely the lack of parents’ awareness in terms of child care, the different language and ethnic groups she worked with, poor facilities and lack of teacher training in non-governmental controlled areas (NGCA). 

In 2004, she decided to temporarily stop teaching to raise her own children, but without stopping her self-study on teaching and the parents education community. Her wish to go back to ECD teaching almost vanished when fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and government soldiers resumed in June 2011, forcing her and the community to flee.

Due to the conflict, the ECD centre was closed from 2011 to 2013. In the following year, the centre reopened its doors and Hkawng Nyoi decided to teach again. 

“Since the collapse of the ceasefire in mid-2011, ensuring quality basic education services for all children affected by conflict has remained a big challenge. In both areas, the large number of IDP children requiring education has been putting pressure on existing education facilities and personnel”, says Hka Li, Humanitarian and Development Department Director of Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), one of the few NGOs that work in both governmental controlled areas (GCA) and non-governmental controlled areas (NGCA).  “Plus, in remote areas beyond government control, children still live with limited access to basic education. On top of this, the turn-over of volunteer teachers has been relatively high, and most of them still lack the skills and knowledge to lead child-friendly teaching-learning process and require training on ways to promote children’s development and protection from many risks related to conflict and displacement.”

For these reasons, UNICEF and KBC have been providing basic education support for over 7000 children in IDP camps and communities affected by conflict in Kachin State in both GCA and NGCA, particularly in hard-to-reach areas.    

Hkawng Nyoi sometimes visits the ECD centres from the governmental controlled areas. ©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Khine Zar Mon
During the last two years, this partnership has provided access to pre-primary school and basic education in safe learning spaces; teaching materials for teachers, volunteers and students; training for around 365 teachers; and the support of school and camp committees. 

Hkawng Nyoi is one of those teachers from the NGCA that has received KBC-UNICEF support, particularly through teacher training and honorarium support. 

“We are committed to improved quality education through teacher training on basic pedagogy, inclusive education, school and classroom management, life skills education, and child rights”, explains  Hka Li from KBC. 

This capacity building is fundamental, particularly for the remote area in the areas not controlled by the government. “Basic services are weaker in NGC areas, where children are missing out on education, which affects their chances later in life and will have a long term impact on economic growth and development in these areas”, explains Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar. “UNICEF has facilitated contact and talks between government and non-State actors to ensure access to basic services for all children. These partnerships can also contribute to peace by building consensus between both sides.” 

Hkawng Nyoi sometimes visits the ECD centres from the governmental controlled areas. She recognizes that the differences couldn’t be bigger: “In my centre, there isn’t a playground for children, it’s a very basic space.” However, what she really wants is not a fancy building or materials: “due to the conflict, children are missing out on chances to develop and are not accessing education. I only have one wish - that the conflict stops, and peace prevails”, she firmly states.      

UNICEF faces access limitations in Kachin and Shan states, which is currently at a historic low. “This has resulted in gaps in humanitarian aid for children”, says Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar. “We are calling on all parties to provide quality basic services for children in the areas that they control, before, during and after conflict”.