August 19, 2016

Change but not frequently

With the founding of the Revolutionary Council in 1962 led by General Ne Win the education system was changed frequently – changes made not only to curricula and syllabi but also for pedagogy or teaching methods to be suited to the changing educational policies. General Ne Win shut down the privately owned schools, made the study of the English language apply only from Grade VI or Fifth Standard and changed all the textbooks of universities, colleges and institutes that were written in English into Myanmar Language in order to promote the native tongue.
Again in the days of his successors, namely U Saw Maung and U Than Shwe, there were frequent changes to the education system but they didn’t realise their objectives. Though they have both exerted enough effort to improve the education system enough to be able to produce a highly qualified workforce for the nation, their efforts came to no avail not because they formulated the wrong policy but because they made the wrong decisions as to who would implement the new policies and in what manner.
This is the reason that an over 50-year period of efforts to effectuate educational reform has not met with success. A strong case will be provided here to manifest the lack of consideration of those who implemented reform.
The case was the prescription of ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Great Expectations’ as school textbooks for Grade 11 or 10th standard students, the former as compulsory English text whereas the latter, additional. Not noticing that the level of difficulty of the texts which were written in 18th century did not match the proficiency level of the Senior Assistant Teachers (SATs), the then minister incorporated the two English textbooks into the high school curricula, thinking that learning the difficult textbooks could improve the command of English on the part of the students.
And what is more, it should be noted that it is the type of examination questions that enhance the quality of education regardless of the level of difficulty of the textbooks. There is a Myanmar saying, “Even the Buddha-to-be can have difficulty responding to the questions raised by a cowherd”. As long as the examination questions are encouraging rote learning, the students will tend to commit into their memory whatever is taught at school parrot-fashion. This being so, what is needed to be changed is the question type to provoke thinking, which cannot be easily responded by rote-learning and which involves unseen and unknown questions.
Last but not the least, education policy should be formulated to meet the short-term and long-term objectives of the country, to prepare the students for job opportunities and to promote the quality of the teachers and/or trainers. The Global New Light of Myanmar would like to urge authorities and all stakeholders to formulate a farsighted and foresighted education policy which will last a long time without the need to change it frequently.


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