Teaching English in Myanmar
Driving on a winding dirt and dust packed road, we come to an intersection. Going across, and then through a small brick and mortar arch, into the Le Paw monastery and school grounds. It is late afternoon so school is over, but we see students in small groups, pairs, and alone, studying and reciting their lessons. In the coming days we will find out that this is a common occurrence before, between and after classes.
We unload our luggage and supplies into what was a classroom. It now has a rug, two beds, a small table and some chairs. This is where Clem Work and I, Pat King will be living and working out of for the next couple of weeks. Two others, Nancy McCulloch and Karen Orzech will be teaching and working at the monastery and school at Shwe Ku.
We are part of the Global Faith Group from Missoula, Montana, U.S.A. In connection with Studer Trust, we will try to teach English and conversational English to teachers and students. Plus new, different, and interesting teaching methods, techniques, and ideas to them. Now we go to meet the abbot, and others from the monastery and school. The abbot has some health and mobility issues so his assistant will be helping us most of the time. U Pyinnyar is not only the assistant, but also the head teacher. He has been teaching for about 23 years. He comes to our classes and is an active participant in them. He also has his own monastery and school to take care of.
We work with the teachers in the afternoons, then sit in, and observe some of their classes in the mornings. Most teaching is done by rote memorization, and repetition. We are trying to show them more interactive ways of teaching and learning. The teachers are eager and attentive in our classes, and very willing to try our teachings and methods.
Most of the classes we saw had 30 to 40, or more students in them. So trying some of our ideas will be hard to do. Still, we saw some teachers dividing up class into smaller groups. Then others were using students to read, lead the class, or do work up at the board, in front of the class. One teacher even had students in a team competition, identifying and talking about body parts in a biology class! U Pyinnyar teaches high school math and physics. His students are alert and interested. He keeps them involved by doing work at the board, calling on them, having them work together, and checking on each other’s work. Plus his humor he uses in class also. The students here learn and graduate above the national level,even with open enrollment now.
We would go somewhere with U Pyinnyar and his helper, driver, almost every day. He wanted to show us the people, country, and culture of his land. Going into the country, small villages, and people homes to see and meet them in their everyday life activities. We saw vases, pottery, and woven baskets being made. Sunflower seeds, peanuts and other nuts and beans separated, prepared,cooked, and bagged mostly by hand. Peanut and sunflower oil processed by hand and homemade machines.
After our time teaching there, we spent a few days traveling. Seeing more of the country, its culture, historic, religious, and interesting places, sites, and people. We saw and enjoyed different parts of the country.
It was great to work with students and teachers eager and willing to learn. We wonder what schools like this and others, Studer Trust helps and supports, could do, with more resources, supplies, people, and classrooms. There is so much potential in this lovely country and its people. We wish them well in the future, and will stay in contact with Studer Trust and the schools.