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Teaching English in Myanmar

February 09, 2015

For five weeks last summer, Sam Shugart CAS ’15, Nway Khine CAS ’15, Katie Schirmer CAS ’17, Ira Yeap B.A. ’14, and Jaline King B.A. ’13 taught English to orphaned children in Taunggyi, Myanmar, through a self-designed project funded by a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant. 

The group focused on tutoring teens in English, collaborating with local teachers to build the curriculum and with local religious orphanages to find kids interested in the program. 

Early in the project, Lewis & Clark students worked with Saw Han, a teacher from a local interfaith program. “He was very passionate about interfaith work in Myanmar,” says Shugart. “Our goal was to bring together equal numbers of different faiths in the classroom. Han was awesome about connecting us to different religious leaders.”

To teach English, the group relied on social, academic, and kinesthetic activities to engage and motivate the students––the majority of whom had little formal education. 
In fact, the group’s active approach confused some of the students, who were used to very different learning expectations. “The Myanmar education system is all about rote memorization,” Shugart explains. “The idea about teaching to build something bigger… that was hard for the kids to understand.”

Even so, the students made significant progress in their new language. Khine says 
that she was particularly impressed with the kids’ enthusiasm and willingness to try new things. At a closing ceremony for the project, students performed speeches, dances, and songs in front of a crowd of about 100 people. “They prepared on their own—we just asked them what they needed,” says Khine. “I was so proud.” 

One of the group’s last activities was a field trip to Inle Lake. The leaders brought their students to the lake to learn about sustainable fishing and to practice technical 
vocabulary about the lake. The kids then made presentations in front of the class. 
”That trip was the culmination of a lot of the program,” says Shugart. “Having kids 
ask questions about the world in English was really cool to see.”

—by Kaiya Gordon CAS ’15; adapted from an article originally published in the Pioneer Log.

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