Wednesday, April 5, 2017



May, 2107

Query on FB Group from random expat parent: 

Good afternoon. Any tips on the names of the top international schools in Yangon? Thanks so much..

My response: Daniel Pugh Just to be clear, there aren't any really great schools in Yangon. All have their warts, mostly following outdated curriculums with antiquated methodologies... good education is hard to find on the international scene.


A few weeks ago I posted the response above to an enquiry on Facebook. It was picked up by the British School in Yangon and last week I was called to account with the school Director. My boys go to this school and the school felt the need to express their confusion as to why, if I was so critical, did I send my kids to their school. BTW I haven't been called into the 'Principals office' in 38 years since Tom Brown (not his real name ;-)) and I were told one of us had to leave the school for our miscreant behaviour. I self-expelled and moved on.

It's perfectly understandable why an erstwhile teacher might leap to the school's defence given the strength of social media and the influence we know it can have... at the same time it isn't something to be taken personally rather it is a point for reflection. I had of course not meant to offend, however as I told the Director in our meeting I did mean to be provocative; it seems I was successful. The take-away is that teachers, parents and school directors must wake up and question what they are doing. If the measure of being a top school is one that serves the best interests of our children and their futures (given what we already know are the challenges) indeed, in Yangon my answer remains "there aren't really any great schools in Yangon". BSY just happens to be the best of the choices imho.

Most schools here teach based on a 'colonial' curriculum that has its roots in the industrial revolution (quite a while ago), the British curriculum is the best known (Burma was a colony) and there are at least 4 schools in the city laying claim to using the British curriculum. There is one using the French system and a couple of others use the USA curriculum. Educators around the world recognize that for the most part these curriculum and how they are taught (silo learning, standardized testing, homework regimes) are woefully outdated.

It is true to say some teachers are enlightened in their teaching methods, others not so much. In that regard and certainly at BSY for example there are teachers trying their very best to deliver a curriculum to the kids that itself doesn't serve them so well. Still, silo learning prevails, with the concept of cross-cutting thematic learning trying unsuccessfully to edge in. Silo learning where the Math, English, Science, Art, Music, etc subjects are taught in isolation from each other, with little cross-referencing or points of intersect is antiquated.

Let me give an example of the beginning of this rabbit hole; my 12 year old is memorizing facts about pretty obscure figures from pre-Elizabethan England in his Humanities class and is tested weekly on his 'obscure figure of the week'. Dutifully I support him in this but privately I question wherein lies its relevance. Given the time allotted to schooling in his young life why spend time on this? Yes, he is learning to read, research and retain information that he is tested on but does it have to be this information? Couldn't it be something he wants to learn or that will be relevant to his future? Couldn't the 'obscure' persons be less obscure like Nicolai Tesla, Mother Theresa or H.H. the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu or JFK? We live in Myanmar, surely it might be a tad bit more relevant to consider notable figures from pre or post colonial Burma?

The rabbit hole deepens though: the world is changing at a very rapid pace as we know, what we aren't doing well as a species is adapting to the change most of which we are the cause of. With silo learning and memorization of redundant facts, we certainly aren't teaching our children how to deal with change, how to adapt and how to be tolerant and kind and those are the characteristics that are going win the day. The dogs may eat the dogs for short term gain but the majority needs to survive long term. It is most likely within our children's lifetimes that there is global calamity in access to food, to fresh water, stunning climate extremes, and in widespread social upheaval. These will require them to take information from the fluid landscape, analyze it, manage it, make decisions, change, adapt and survive. How are our schools preparing them for that using industrial revolution era methods and curriculum?

When I were a lad (and I'm dating myself here) it was school then uni then job then wifey then house then kids then mid-life circus (err.. crisis), etc... I digress. Think about it, in 40years how much has changed? Work has shifted completely, we have a work style continuum running from the job-for-life salary concept through a gambit of job types to the other end where work is forked out piece-meal to the lowest bidder on the internet. Myself, aside from being a grocery store clerk when I was a teen, have only ever worked as a consultant or contractor taking on temporary work for a multitude of employers and in changing fields. I have reinvented myself no less than 5 times over my working years to date. Grocery clerk, Adventure travel Guide, Development educator, Humanitarian Aid worker... and now transitioning into a Wellness Therapist!

Project Managers now manage their teams virtually, they live all over and they farm out the work piece by piece. To get work you have to hustle, be online, get those contracts no matter how small, make a name for yourself and get more work... isn't that right? How many of us realise this and how are our schools supporting us to prepare our kids for it giving them the tools they will need? How are our schools nurturing the ability to change and flow, to adapt and grow in this quite ruthless and unforgiving environment... and then there is the question of what is coming next in the evolution of work? So in 7 or 8 years what does Zaki need to be ready for? To reiterate facts about his obscure figure of the week? I think not.

Granted schools like BSY are also great places for kids to learn to play and socialize, etc? And certainly BSY in the alphabet soup of Yangon schools gets that part right with homework mercifully kept to a minimum so they don't have this burden when they come home and can just be children. This is a wee blessing. I'll say it here, my kids wouldn't be at BSY if homework was onerous and mandatory; homework is antiquated and proven to be in many cases counter-productive to learning. 

My response then was a bit trite, even reactionary but it was accurate and I stand by it. There is no international school in Yangon that adequately prepares our children for whats to come in the future. After much research we determined that BSY was the best of the options. The question remains, is there anywhere such a school? Does the Steiner/Waldorf approach provide the answer? United World Colleges? Is thematic or project based learning the best way forward, better than the columnar silo learning that is the norm and where standardized testing is still used creating categories in which children are placed for a good long time.

Private education entities like the British School Foundation with 10 schools around the world could do well to shed the past and the prevailing centuries old model. As a private educational for profit business, they could focus their energies (and profits) on pioneering a way forward so children have an option in places like Yangon that serves their best interest. Or does short term profit trump longer term gain?

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