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On a journey with Connect to Learn in Myanmar

Editor's note: Today we feature a guest post by Helen Sigalas, the Head of Learning & Development for Region South East Asia & Oceania. Connect to Learn was deployed in Myanmar during 2015. Some 21,000 students will benefit in the first two years; more than half are girls. On a recent trip to Myanmar, my role was to educate the teachers on how to use Ericsson’s Connect to Learn technology as a teaching tool.

On a journey with Connect to Learn in Myanmar
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Teachers from selected schools in Mon and Bago states came together for several days of training. One of those days was mine, and I was preceded by UNESCO and the Department of Basic Education. Although I taught in three schools over three days, I actually had teachers from 14 schools in attendance.

Connect To Learn is a global initiative launched in 2010 that aims to ensure that all young people worldwide have access to quality education by bringing ICT to schools in remote, resource-poor parts of the world, over mobile broadband. This is the story of my trip.

Day One of Connect to Learn training

After a visually amazing, yet frightening seven-hour drive south from Yangon, we arrived in the small town of Kyike Kha Hmee in the early afternoon.

Our first stop was the school, where lessons with the teacher from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) were still going on. The building seemed at least 50 years old, and the classroom was large and looked like it might have been an assembly hall or similar. Of course, there was no air conditioning, so all the windows were open to allow the afternoon breeze to waft through and try to quell the humid and stifling heat.

There is not a lot of foreign tourism seven hours south of Yangon, so whilst on the beach, I noticed a group of young school girls hovering and staring and giggling. I was told that they had not seen a westerner before and of course my fair skin and light brown hair was completely alien to them. They reluctantly came when I called them over and started touching my arms and my hair with amazement.

Day One of training in Kyike Kha Hmee started off well. The teachers were eager to learn, and it amazed me that many of them, particularly the older ones, would very likely a week earlier have never seen a computer before. Yet they managed to get through.

Gmail is e-mail

When I asked them if they knew how to use e-mail, they all looked at me with blank stares. A minute or so later, one of them asked “Gmail?” and I said “Yes, does anyone know how to use Gmail?”, a question which met with a much more positive response from my class. It occurred to me that to them e-mail and Gmail were one and the same.

After a few presentations, and some logging into cloud servers and tablets, we were done for the day and I departed hoping that in some small way I had helped make a difference to their lives.

Oh, did I mention that I was teaching barefoot?

Day Two – teaching through power outages

Afterwards we got into a car with the entire entourage from the day before for a two-and-a-half hour drive to the next town, Zin Kyite, to settle in before class the following day.

The second day didn’t start so well, with a power outage for the first hour (power outages are a regular occurrence in Myanmar). Anyway, forced to improvise due to lack of power, we managed to get on with the class. When I signed up for this venture, I was told “The schools don’t have WiFi. They all use 3G”. What a blessing in disguise. When the power goes down so does the WiFi, but not 3G, which allowed us to carry on with only a slight disruption.

Teachers make progress on tablets and laptops

We continued into the afternoon playing with laptops and tablets and learning how to upload content from the cloud server onto the tablets. By the end of the session, the teachers were all guiding each other and reciting “search, check box, associate, grade, subject, add, upload” followed by the sounds of satisfaction as they watched the tablet update with the changes they had made.

That evening we set off for our final destination of Htone Gyee. We left later than we anticipated, and it got dark quite quickly and also started to rain. Did I say rain? Deluge is a much better word – a monsoonal deluge in the dark with bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles, cars, buses, lorries and the occasional buffalo and elephant on the road – none of them with anything reflective, appearing before you out of nowhere. They were four of the most terrifying hours of my life.

The third and final day emerged, and I was feeling a little sad knowing that it was my last day teaching these incredible people. Of course we had the now familiar power outages and sundry impediments, but we took them in stride, and we got through the day relatively easily.

It was a truly amazing experience, one I will remember for a very long time. I hope my students learned as much from me in my three days as I learned from them.

Returning to Myanmar in the fall

I am due to return in the fall to go to the Mandalay Region as well and deliver the training to teachers from additional 17 selected schools. When I think about what these people are doing it astonishes me. We have evolved with technology over 20 years to get where we are today, but for these teachers, they had to learn all of this quite literally in a matter of days – I am in awe of them and truly inspired by them.

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