A witness to lost potential
Rainy days are a particular challenge for teacher Daw Kyi. Her classroom is not really a room at all. It`s just a roof to shelter under, with no walls, so when it rains it is so noisy and wet that it can be impossible to teach.
Even on dry days there are so many distractions she must contend with to keep the interest of her grade 3 pupils. For instance, pilgrims come and go from the nearby pagoda. Daw Kyi explains: “The children look out at the things going on, and it is difficult for them to focus.”
Because the school has so few classrooms, grades 3 and 4 are both squeezed under the same roof with their respective teachers. Daw Kyi and the grade 4 teacher try to take turns instructing their respective classes, so they aren`t required to shout over each other.
Daw Kyi has been teaching for eight years. She’s committed, even evangelical, about her work and its importance to individual students and the prospects of the country. Daw Kyi is not in it for the money, she earns less than US$50 a month. But she is proud to see the second graders who were the first class she taught eight years ago, those of them who remain at school now graduated into grade 10.
“When I see this, my joy is unlimited,” says Daw Kyi.
However, she finds it distressing to witness the lost potential as individual students vanish out of the classroom too early.
Daw Kyi tells the story of a boy, Win, who is in her present class. He is smart, she says. “But because of his parents` financial situation, sometimes the child does not come to school.
“We asked him what he does and he said he peels onions. Because of that, Win comes to school in the morning but not the afternoon.”
Eventually, city life proved too expensive, and the boy and his family are now making plans to move back to their rural village.
Daw Kyi has seen children leave school after just grades 1 or 2. She tries to keep them coming until grade 4 at a minimum so that if they end up as street vendors, they at least have basic numeracy skills and can calculate well enough to survive.
And she remains wholeheartedly committed to her work. Daw Kyi explains: “For the future of my students, my belief is that they must know more than me. I want them to be more educated and more clever than I.”