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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Ko Htet lives in a small, coastal town in rural Myanmar. He is a clever, happy young boy who is passionate about learning. After two years of being unable to go to school, he now has the opportunity to return to learning through ChildFund Myanmar’s education program.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state schools have closed and the ongoing political unrest has added further disruption to children’s education. This meant that children around the country were forced to learn at home the best they could, with whatever resources they had available to them.

While at home, many children are expected to help their parents in their work and in the home and some children spend their time idly.

“My parents work at the fishery. I have to help my parents’ works. It is also the same for other children in this area – they also have to help their parents’ work,” said Ko Htet.

Although some families could arrange individual tutoring, most could not afford the added expense.

One concerned parent said: “Because of COVID-19 and the political situation, our child had to stop their education and spent most of their time staying home and playing online games. We were unhappy with this situation. Now our child can continue learning with this education program.”

ChildFund worked in consultation with local partners to identify opportunities for children to access an education. The education program opened small informal classrooms across the country so that children could safely return to learning. “Because of no learning for about two years, I’d forgotten many of the lessons I’d learned. I could only just recall the lessons when my teacher now, reminded me,” said Ko Htet.

ChildFund and its partners trained local volunteers to conduct the lessons and run the informal classrooms. These volunteer teachers are trained in teaching numeracy and literacy, and encouraging play. They are bridging the gap in education that children have missed out on these last few years while getting them ready for the new academic year starting in June.

“Since our teacher is very good at teaching, I improved my general knowledge, and could recall about the lessons I’d forgotten. The lessons we are studying now are different to the lessons we learnt before at school. We learn to read, and learn the lessons by playing – I think the lessons we study are better,” said Ko Htet.

With COVID-19 cases still rising across the country in early 2022, disrupting education and limiting access to health care, the informal classes are socially distanced and each child has access to a face mask or shield.

“The teacher also gave us school bags, pencils, exercise books, drawing crayons, erasers, face shield, mask and hand sanitisers. We are also taught through playing and I am so happy to learn in this way.”

ChildFund has been supporting and encouraging children that cannot attend in person, to attend online. But with unreliable electricity and internet connectivity, this has proved to be challenging.

The program supported the volunteer teachers with the skills to support the mental wellbeing of their students. They will be able to support children and young people in their classrooms overcome any psychosocial challenges they face as a result of the prolonged schools closures and COVID-19 lockdowns.

For children like Ko Htet, being able to attend the informal classrooms has been an exciting opportunity and signals a return to normal life. “I’m so happy that I can attend class again.”

As the school academic season has started in June. This program has completed its support in May to more than 1,300 students and 40 teachers from eight different Regions and States.

Meet Russell Spencer and Ursula Groves– two generous individuals who have been supporting ChildFund Australia for nearly nine years.

Russell and Ursula have been long term supporters of Yen, aged 13, who lives in the Hoa Binh Province in Vietnam. They decided to donate computers to a primary and secondary school Yen attended so that more children could have a better education.

The students were thrilled to learn how to use the computers. One student at the secondary school, Chau aged 15, said: “When our school received the computers, I was very happy and excited. Before, when we didn’t have computers, we didn’t know how to look up the learning materials or find exercises. Now, we know how to look up learning resources and can learn more about the world around us.”

Changing education for communities of children

Russell and Ursula are passionate about providing learning opportunities to children. Initially they were interested in donating the computers because of Yen, but then they realised that they could help more children. Russell and Ursula both feel connected to Vietnam, its people and culture.

Happy with how well the computers were received by the students and teachers, Russell and Ursula decided to donate a second set to a separate school in the same province.

The school principal was so happy to receive the donation, sharing “I would like to say that we were so happy and pleased to receive your great gift, a computer room. The teachers and the students here dreamt of having them a long time ago, and now our dream has come true!”

Russell and Ursula know that other schools lacked these resources and believes in empowering every child with an education. Since setting up the computers, students have been learning typing and drawing skills. The children have been able to learn how to use the computers quickly and this has enhanced their education.

One teacher at the school shared that having access to these computers supported the students to become more adept at using technology. “The whole school and all of our students are very happy and honoured to receive these new computers. Before receiving them, most of the students lived in difficult circumstances and had limited access to information technology. They can now access the internet and learn about information technology easier,” she said.

In the future, Russell and Ursula hope to be able to support more education projects to help children like Yen and her peers to learn. After three donations, they have donated 32 computers to two schools in the Hoa Binh Province.