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Non-Formal Education and Civic Engagement: The Case of the Pre-College Program in Myanmar

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B

Proposal

Once flourishing, Myanmar’s higher education system deteriorated with the military regime, even experiencing a two-year closure after students held anti-government protests. Universities have now been isolated to areas outside of major cities and most students are enrolled in distance learning degrees and only required to be on campus for one month a year. The Ministry of Education is highly centralized and government-run, controlling education policies and curriculum. However, Myanmar’s Ministry of Education has reformed some policies incorporating a goal of internationalizing Myanmar’s higher education, working to regain momentum in providing its citizens with accessible quality education, though mostly impacting the elite of the nation. There is a need for a major curriculum reform that emphasizes critical thinking and civic engagement, but until this happens nonformal education programs are exploding around the country. Through the lens of the foreign instructor, the alum, and the current management of this program, this paper will describe the impact of a successful nonformal civic engagement program that is revolutionizing Myanmar’s education system by enhancing access of quality education to students from low socioeconomic classes.

The Pre-College Program (PCP) started as a small initiative that would teach critical thinking skills, community engagement, and ultimately prepare university students to study at higher institutions outside of Myanmar. Now, the extremely decentralized program exists throughout Myanmar with various versions and unique objectives. The Pre-College Program at Phaung Daw Oo Monastic School in Mandalay focuses on four guiding principles. The first goal is to provide students with the skills required to design community development projects that focus on community responsiveness and engagement. Throughout the year, students learn skills such as program management, community assessment, grant writing, and monitoring and evaluation. These hard skills combined with critical thinking and a theoretical foundation of social constructs prepare students to create sustainable community development projects within their community and communities around Myanmar. The second goal is to improve student access to international universities by improving English and critical thinking skills. PCP students are taking courses that prepare them for English tests such as IELTS and TOEFL that are required for admissions to universities outside of Myanmar. The third goal is to promote global political awareness and encourage social citizenship and engagement in democracy. Each PCP cohort host student groups from around the world to discuss global issues, sharing perspectives constructed by their national identity and unique personal experiences. These programs expand the PCP participants’ horizons and challenge them to see the world through a new lens. The fourth goal is to improve general civic education and leadership skills through service-learning. The PCP curriculum embodies service-learning in every PCP event, field trip, and class throughout the duration of the program.

Each year, the Pre-College Program invites a teacher from the United States or Australia to facilitate a dialogue on global issues and intercultural communication. Previously, the foreign instructor was also responsible for developing and teaching the service-learning course, preparing the students to go on their own two-month service-learning trip to rural areas of Myanmar. After three years, PCP at Phaung Daw Oo is managed by alum of the program, including the instruction of the service-learning class, instilling the values of sustainable education. Still, a foreign instructor is incorporated into the teaching staff and curriculum design to ensure the program integrate a critical global perspective and is contributing to the internationalization goals of Myanmar’s Ministry of Education. The Pre-College Program is a model example of an effective nonformal education program that is successfully reconstructing civic engagement and democratic education in Myanmar. The PCP Mandalay students have successfully gained admissions to graduate schools around the world and participated on short-term study abroad programs. More importantly, the alum of the program have developed nonprofits and civil society organizations throughout Myanmar that are contributing to the political, economic and social development of their nation.

The Pre-College Program has set the foundation of a sustainable education program that is successfully filling a need of the higher education system in Myanmar. Small nonformal education programs can easily be attached to already established schools and train the current cohorts to take ownership in managing the program, further establishing the longevity and buy-in of the program. Schools and education professionals should consider using the Pre-College Program as a model nonformal education program that can fill the gaps of education at a low cost with a high impact. The findings within this paper will contribute to the field of democratic and civic education.

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