Saturday, 3 January 2015

Myanmar - a few library visits

I've just been on a trip around Myanmar and got to visit 3 libraries while I was there.  Back home (with more reliable wifi and time) I was able to answer some of my questions while visiting them and learn a little more about the background of books and literature in Myanmar.

The first was absolute luxury.  The hotel we stayed in at Ngapali beach had dedicated a whole building next to the swimming pool to being a library. A bar downstairs with comfortable chairs and peace and quiet (and wifi) and study tables. And shelves upstairs with books, probably left behind by guests, but sorted by language, with the European languages rather than English dominating. It was a great pleasure to sit there in the mornings and work on my next study module - Information Literacy.

The next was in the Thone Htat Monastic Education School.  Here is a little background on monastic education from the Myanmar Times.

We got in contact with the MEDG through UWCSEA-Dover when they came to give a talk at the school. Since my husband was going to Yangon shortly after that with my son, they took a few boxes of books donated by the UWCSEA community to the school.  This trip, we contacted them to ask what they needed so that we could be a bit more specific in our donations on a needs base, and they were particularly interested in Science and Maths books for upper primary / lower secondary.

Now that was actually a pretty difficult request to fulfil.  Because they were asking for books that would help with exploration and experimentation and visiting the local Singapore bookstore, it was crammed with books with practise tests and drills.  I couldn't find any of the books I'd used with my kids like the Usborne Science experiments, or any of the great books now written for kids on math that makes it a fun and interesting thing. (Here are some lists from Homeschoolmath, Fiction with math in it, the Math Forum, Goodreads and Math Babe).  The kids in Singapore may score in the top of the PISA tables for math and science, but one has to wonder about the mind-numbingly boring process to get there!


The MEDG focuses its attention and resources on "educating the educator" which seems like a very sound approach, and the library was geared mainly to resources for teachers, although there were a number of donated books for the students as well.  Naturally this suffers from the same problem as just about every library I've seen in this type of situation - the books are English language cast-offs and totally inappropriate for either learning English or for fostering reading in Mother Tongue for the local population (I've written more about this here).
 I do think that the best efforts one can make as a donor is in donating resources for the teachers, or in supporting the local publishing industry (see this article on Myanmar) to stimulate the creation and publishing of culturally and linguistically appropriate literature and other resources. (Bring me a Book, Hong Kong with their Feng ZiKai prize and their community outreach to teach parents to read to their children is an excellent example of this).

UWCSEA is actively involved in helping train the teachers and the teacher trainers and mentoring, and one can see that by the philosophy and approach of the leaders, who are embracing inquiry based learning and trying to get away from the rote and memorisation basis.

The hall that is used for eating, sleeping and schoolwork



 Intrigued by a sign saying "Sarpay Beikman children's library" I walked into this space near the famous Strand Hotel in Yangon.  There was a friendly librarian, children sitting studying and some posters on the wall, and some books in boxes on shelves, but most of the books were behind glassed doors in the bookshelves.  I was running late and a little lost, so didn't have much time to ask any questions as to the where and why and how of it, so I've had to do that in retrospect.  Seems like Sarpay Beikman is one of the publishing houses and was formerly a translation society. The library seems to be something they've set up with their products.  They also run a literary award including a children's category.

Just for the fun of it - here is a report of UNESCO from 1968 on the state of libraries in Myanmar! Amazing what the internet will throw up at you.