Preparing to reopen schools better in Myanmar
A manual developed by the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sports with UNICEF’s technical support
Myanmar’s 9.7 million students were about to complete their school year when in March this year the first COVID-19 case was identified in the country hauling the students into a long, uncertain break. Since then, UNICEF Myanmar has been supporting the Ministry of Education, together with other partners, to prepare schools to reopen better, to keep students safe and to support teachers for continuous professional development.
When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit in March and schools closed, Daw Kaythwe Myo, a head teacher at Myaing Ka Lay Ywa Gyi Post Primary School in Hpa An township, Kayin State, was concerned she would be unable to take the essential training of trainers (TOT) course on Myanmar’s new school curriculum.
Myanmar has been going through curriculum reform every year since 2015. This school year, 2020-2021, the TOT for the new curriculum for Grades 4 (primary), 7 (middle), and 10 (high school) were scheduled.
Much to Kaythwe’s relief, the two-day training did go ahead. It was organized by the Department of Education, but for the first time ever it was online. And like most of the head teachers in Myanmar, it was the first time Kaythwe, in her 20-year career, took an online course. “Online learning can’t compete with face-to-face training,” said Kaythwe. But she added, “except for a short power cut, it went well. I took notes on the key points and downloaded the material.”
Kaythwe was referring to downloading the digitized training materials such as textbooks, teacher guides and video lessons from the Myanmar Digital Education Platform (MDEP) that had been uploaded by the Ministry of Education and can now be accessed by all teachers free of charge. After the online learning, the head teachers, like Kaythwe, delivered township-level face-to-face training with social distancing.
UNICEF, along with other partners, assisted with the digitization of the training contents and video editing of the lessons, which were recorded with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Asian Development Bank, while the Ministry of Education funded the cost of the online training and township level face-to-face training.
Throughout the country, from mid-April to early July 2020, where the internet was accessible, 25,000 teachers from Grades 4, 7 and 10 participated in online learning. Importantly, UNICEF in coordination with the ‘Education in Emergency’ partners, such as Save the Children and Plan International, ensured volunteer teachers from conflict-affected states of Kachin and Rakhine also participated in training – their training was face-to-face with social distancing. There were 16 female volunteer teachers from Kachin and 69 from Rakhine.
Following Kaythwe’s online training, she felt confident that equipped with the online video clips and the guidebook, she would be able to deliver the six-day new curriculum training to the primary school teachers at her school. She added they practised social distancing as well as all wearing face masks.
Yet it was not just learning the school curriculum that was crucial for the return of the country’s 9.7 million students but also the measures to keep them safe. The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sports, developed a manual, ‘The Guidelines on COVID Prevention and Control in School’ with UNICEF’s technical and financial support. UNICEF helped adapt the guidelines to Myanmar’s reality from the global guidance issued in March 2020 by UNICEF (global), WHO and the International Federation of the Red Cross. The guidelines provide clear messages and information to head teachers, teachers, student and caregivers to help ensure safe learning environments and to counter the spread of COVID-19.
Inclusivity was UNICEF’s priority, ensuring that different types of schools and learning centres, and different ethnic groups could access the guidelines. About 189,000 copies have been distributed to 58,728 schools, including to monastic schools, ethnic schools, non-formal education centres, migrant learning centres and temporary learning centres in camps for the internally displaced. Additionally, they were translated into 64 ethnic languages. UNICEF staff will be accompanying sub-national education administrations to monitor the use of the guidelines.
Kaythwe said she had received the guidelines in the third week of August through District and Township Education Offices. Together with the parent/teacher association, she said, they made the school COVID-19 safe in line with the guidelines. “I was surprised to see so many parents join in to do the cleaning in preparation for the school opening. I even lost weight during those days of preparation!”
While students in Myanmar wait for schools and learning centres to reopen, the Ministry of Education is also revising the guidelines to keep abreast of the day-to-day-changing situation to meet the context on the ground.