Jérémie: “Teachers are deeply respected in Burmese society.”
My name is Jérémie, I am 25 years old and I had the chance to go to Mandalay (Myanmar) for an eight-month mission of civic service thanks to the association AIME as a social science teacher. I worked at Phaung Daw Oo, a monastic school founded in 1993 by the monk U Nayaka, which provides free education to all its students. This school differs from other state schools in the country in that it focuses on developing students’ critical thinking skills, rather than rote learning of the proposed content (as is done in state schools in Myanmar).
Class photo before my departure, December 2019
There is always a gap between what we read and what we experience. My first contact with this country was in this sense particularly exotic. There, the spirit of community is particularly present, so much so that the concept of “intimacy” is often misunderstood. One immediately realizes the many cultural differences between our two countries: the relationship with the people, the religious aspect, the gastronomy, the climate, the way of life, etc.
Traditional Shan meal with colleagues and other programme volunteers, June 2019
Although this mission was not my first educational experience, it was nevertheless the first time I was able to teach social sciences to classes of more than 20 young adults (over 18 years old). The anxiety of the first days soon gave way to pleasure, as the students welcomed me with immense respect. Indeed, teachers are deeply respected in Burmese society. So I did my best to provide them with basic knowledge in economics, but also in history-geography. For example, I had the privilege of discussing with them the contemporary history of their own country (which they knew little or nothing about), colonization in Asia, the Cold War, the World Wars, etc. I also had the opportunity to discuss with them the history of the Burmese people.
Class photo during Thadingyut, a traditional celebration honoring teachers, October 2019
Of course, not everything was easy on a daily basis. For example, I had to be patient when faced with the difficulties of the language barrier. Students were not used to asking questions in English, or asking for explanations on points they did not understand. However, little by little, it became easier and easier for me to guess when I had to come back to certain points. Moreover, the almost daily power cuts also got me used to being reactive and not relying exclusively on my PowerPoint presentations (e.g. organizing Times Up, debates, group work, etc).
Photo with students and other PCP teachers following a tournament between the school’s different programs, July 2019.
We also went on class trips and many extra-curricular activities together, which allowed me to build very strong bonds with my colleagues and students. I will always remember this great collective adventure in which I had the chance to participate. Despite the obstacles I encountered, it is one of my greatest personal accomplishments to have been able to share my knowledge and experiences with them. I will definitely return to this wonderful country in the future.
Class photo during a hike in Shan State, June 2019