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Myanmar educator: Reciting peaceful words

NYO ME The Myanmar Times  APRil 5, 2019

The educator Thant Zin Soe tells peace stories by using children centered story telling method at Children of Tomorrow Youth Center, Yangon in Feb 20, 2019. Nyo Me/The Myanmar Times

If you don’t teach children to be peaceful, someone will teach them to be violent. Those words were spoken by American journalist Colman McCarthy, who has just released a children’s book on the theme as part of a wider development project entitled Stories for Peace, which is the initial project of a bigger picture programme named School for Peace.

The project is collaboration project between group Power to Bloom, working in Bangladesh, and local Myanmar project Third Story Project. Their cooperation included a three day long pilot workshop in both countries at the end of February.

The peace lessons in the workshop are based on religious stories from a range of texts pontificating on the importance of kindness and understanding.

Third story has, up until now, focused on children’s rights, something more specific than anti-violence, but inclusive of it, and both groups agreed that peace and teaching to respect diversity was a fundamental aspect of youth development.

Union government schools offer a form of ‘peace education’ as part of the broader civics education course. The curriculum is said to be relatively well fleshed out, but neither teachers nor students take the topic seriously as it’s not considered to be meaningful to young academic careers. That was the personal experience of Thant Zin Soe, now 32, who is an educator with the Stories for Peace programme.

“Sometimes, other lessons would interrupt civics, lessons that were considered more important, like mathematics. Civics also did not include an exam at the end, so students saw it as any easy option”, Thant Zin Soe said.

The local educator further shared that parents have reservations about what exactly a peace education entails, leading to more questions about its usefulness when educational time is precious. Lessons on children’s rights, the environment and even sex education are seen as broadly positive, but parents are not enthusiastic about peace.

“Some parents see training in diversity and exposure to other cultures and religions as a risk”, he said.

The pilot workshop was held over three days, 19th to 21st February, at the Children of Tomorrow Youth Centre in Yangon. 25 children in their early teens from a variety of backgrounds and religions were invited to attend. The schools were also mixed – some students came from public, private or monastic institutions.

The private students, with expensive tutelage and access to international textbooks and English resources, pushed ahead with the learning while public and monastic school students exhibited an unwillingness to share their personal opinions and feelings with the group.  Thant Zin Soe said he was trying to encourage them.

How the peace workshop runs

Peace can be a challenging topic even for adults, said Ma Ei Pwint Rhi Zan, project director of the Third Story Project. With time and patience, beginning with story and telling and instruction of child rights and peace, a better understanding begins to emerge.

The workshop is the first in Myanmar to focus on peace education not simply using literature, but storytelling, through games, and with group activities like painting to free up young minds. The curriculum is spread out over three days beginning with conflict, then in the next session, how conflict arises and, finally, finding solutions to conflict.

“A person needs inner peace. It flows from one person into a family, then into society, and all around the country”, Thant Zin Soe said.

The next step for the project is to reach out to children who have been affected by violence in order to give them a space to talk and develop preventative skills in order to protect themselves. They intent to take the programme to remote areas, as well.

“The workshop brings fun but also mature challenges”, Thant Zin Soe said.

From: THE MYANMAR TIMES (Myanmar) Friday April 5, 2019


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