Education, Education, Education

26th September 2014

Inside Pan
Beyond Pan

In Myanmar (Burma) many minds are turned to the question of implementing a good and universal education system. 
The Forum Theatre company which Pan has worked with over the last three years comes from areas of real deprivation where many obstacles are in the path of education.
How did they deal with the issue..................?



The Myanmar parliament is discussing a reforming education bill, the British Council is hosting major conferences on education, UK universities (and probably many from elsewhere) are hitting Yangon with “scoping” missions. Meanwhile many of my Myanmar and ex-pat friends and colleagues are wondering whether the rather autocratic, top-down, rote-learning, “never ask your teacher a question, they will tell you what you need to know” culture has led to a lack of critical thinking which makes propaganda easier to spread and communal violence more difficult to resolve.


Nevertheless it was a surprise when discussions inside the wonderful “Human Drama” Forum Theatre group, now 3 years old and the most accomplished and experienced in Myanmar, chose as the most important issues in their communities three stories around education.


This is the voice from the grassroots; Human Drama’s members are from the peripheries of Yangon and from economically deprived areas. They make performances about issues they know and see around them and have concentrated on sexual & reproductive health, anti-trafficking and gender-based violence with considerable success.


Their discussions threw up many topics like those above and some new ones around land-grabbing and (sign of the times) the danger of meeting “facebook friends” in real life. The three topics they all democratically agreed on, however, all related to education.


For a Forum Theatre play – where audiences make interventions to avoid the worst outcomes an issue can provoke – they created a storyline around a boy who was taken out of school to work in a tea-shop but who continues to want to study. This desire ends in abuse and violence from the tea-shop owner.


For a play which shows a positive ending – a role model – who finds ways of overcoming obstacles, they created a play about a young woman who is obliged to quit secondary education when her father dies and she has to work for the survival of the family. In the face of many obstacles she finds alternative ways to study and finally attends free Korean language classes after working a full day and wins a place to work for a year in a business in South Korea (a much prized place amongst many Asians). She prospers and returns to set up a small branch of the business in Yangon.


For another Forum play, but exploring playmaking without using a known language, they created a piece about a village day labourer who is illiterate, who resists his daughter’s desire to learn and who is unable to read an important letter sent to him. All attempts to ask others to read it for him result in scorn, ignoring or forcing free labour out of him. When he makes a mistake the letter is torn up and he is left in tears of frustration.


This is how education is seen by this group and, as we saw yesterday in a remote village built partly on stilts above a swamp, it is also seen by villagers.  They watched, they intervened, they discussed, they gave ideas, they applauded and became part of the debate about how education can be prioritised even in the difficult  situations performed to them, situations which were all too familiar.


If the government, the international agencies and the NGOs manage to push the agenda on education I think they will find people at the bottom end of society eager to participate.


Human Drama is a collaboration between the British Council and the local organisation, AFXB, and has been trained in theatre using methods from Pan Intercultural Arts, London. They work in Yangon and around the country, performing and training others to use these community-led techniques.

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