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Working on the road to Mandalay

Greg Tinker describes an exciting opportunity to work in Burma as the country opens up its doors to the outside world and welcomes the first internationals to its teacher training colleges

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International development charity VSO is offering the first opportunities for teachers to work in Myanmar (Burma) for decades.

We need 22 Tefl teachers for the academic staff who train Myanmar’s student teachers. The volunteers will work in Rangoon and will support senior trainers and cluster managers in locations across the country. This is a unique opportunity to influence teaching practice in Myanmar after many years of isolation and to have a profound impact on the way in which teachers – and therefore children – are taught.

The chosen volunteers will be VSO’s first within the state education sector in Myanmar, and along with their British Council counterparts the first internationals to be working within the country’s education colleges for decades. We’re offering multiple one- or two-year volunteer placements. Successful applicants will receive training, return flights, accommodation and an allowance to cover basic living expenses while in Myanmar. Accommodation, in the teacher training colleges, is likely to be rudimentary. The volunteers will work alongside trainers employed by the British Council in all of the colleges, and be supported by a British Council–VSO support team.

VSO UK head of volunteering Jo Rhodes-Jiao explains, ‘We believe every child has the right to a quality education and education that will help to lift them out of poverty and open opportunities. We are excited to support the Myanmar government’s practical education reforms and its ambition to improve teachers’ proficiency in English language. The successful VSO volunteers will have the first-hand chance to work along with Burmese colleagues to improve the way English language is taught. A good grasp of English will really help Burmese children to be part of a global society.’

Myanmar is now emerging from four decades of military dictatorship. The quality of education and healthcare provision has suffered significant deterioration since the country’s independence in 1948, particularly in rural areas. The education sector regularly sees some of smallest amounts of government spend per GDP in the world. Teachers receive their training in the government’s education colleges, but the quality of training received is highly variable.

Poverty is endemic, estimated to affect up to one third of the population. A study commissioned by the government itself indicated an average of 26 per cent across each state, and also showed that 37 per cent of the country’s 55 million population are unemployed.

The situation in Myanmar is one of constant change. Access to banking, mobile phones and vehicles has changed dramatically over the past year. It can be difficult to access good-quality high-speed internet (though most places have internet cafes and 3G is currently spreading) and the phone lines can be poor quality: sometimes it can be difficult to get through. Neither electricity supplies nor water are guaranteed 24 hours a day.

Significant changes are often introduced without much in the way of warning, so volunteers will need to be adaptable to a rapidly changing situation.

This is a thrilling time to be in Myanmar: a beautiful country where foreigners are welcomed and where there is hope for future development, of which improving education is a key part. The people of Myanmar are willing and excited to learn, and they show education a tremendous amount of respect.

The education system is currently undergoing massive reform, so the current system is likely to change. At present, trainee teachers must study at education college for one year in order to receive a diploma in primary school teaching. If they stay on for another year, they can become qualified as secondary school teachers. Trainee teachers do not do a degree-level English course, though many of the academic staff (who the VSO volunteers will be training) do have good English language skills.

Potential applicants need English language teaching qualifications from an internationally recognised institution, preferably a Celta or equivalent. You do not need experience of teaching in Asia or elsewhere abroad – the most important thing is a passion for teaching, relevant qualifications and teaching experience. A background that includes teacher training is an added plus, as you will be teaching in teacher training colleges, but not necessary. To apply for a volunteer placement with VSO, go to vso.org.uk/volunteer

Greg Tinker is media officer for VSO