Sunday, August 20, 2017

Five decades on, Myanmar's Scouts make comeback

Students from Basic Education High School 3 Dawei cook rice at Maungmakan Beach in December 2012 under a scouting program being trialled by the Ministry of Education. (Cherry Thein/The Myanmar Times)Students from Basic Education High School 3 Dawei cook rice at Maungmakan Beach in December 2012 under a scouting program being trialled by the Ministry of Education. (Cherry Thein/The Myanmar Times)

The scouts are back. Almost 50 years after the Ne Win government banned the scout movement, the Ministry of Education has reinstated a pilot scout program ahead of a possible broader rollout.

The programs resumed at high schools in 18 townships in December, with 100 grade seven participants in each township.

Daw Kay Khine Lwin from Basic Education High School 3 Dawei in Tanintharyi Region told The Myanmar Times that the ministry-sponsored program aimed to teach participants to use their initiative, be independent and help others, while learning more about the environment.

“Five headmasters, one from each school [in Dawei], underwent training at Nay Pyi Taw for a short scout course in November. They then taught the other teachers at the school in December,” she said.

The BEHS 3 Dawei scout program was launched in December, along with a marching band program, she said.

The first scout activity took place on December 28, with 100 students and 12 leaders trekking to nearby Maungmakan Beach. The group left Dawei at 4am, alternately walking and taking the bus to learn about the environment and time management, she said.

After arriving at the beach, the students were sorted into 12 teams and competed to build tents, cook rice and clean up.

“We emphasise the importance of maintaining the environment and natural resources because it is hard to educate people when they get older,” Daw Kay Khine Lwin said.

“We haven’t had scouts for a long time but I am happy the children can take part now – it should have resumed much earlier,” she said.

The excursion made the students more inquisitive, she said, and they asked numerous questions about the environment, weather and geography on the way to Maungmakan, she said.

“In the classroom, it is hard for student to ask questions but scouting helps them to do that and build a closer relationship with teachers,” she said.

As part of the scout program, participants will also get formal training in knot-tying, first aid and environmental issues, such as the benefits of mangrove forests and the impact of humans on natural environments.

Another teacher from BEHS 3 Dawei, Daw Than Than Htay, said the scout program should be introduced across the country as it made education more fun for both students and teachers.

“Sometimes teachers also get bored just teaching from textbooks. We also want to teach through practical activities and it’s enjoyable to see our children having fun outdoors while they are learning,” she said.

“Work without play is painful. I know very well about spending all day studying in the classroom and not have time to play because of the pressure of exams. I want children to have a break, have a chance to do something creative and stimulating, and come back to the classroom filled with enthusiasm.”

Ma Yon Mi Mi Kyaw, 11, said she enjoyed the activities at Maungmakan but confessed that she knew little about scout activities

“I didn’t know anything about scouts when we first heard about the activities. But my friends and I were so exciting to join the program,” she said.

“We like to learn informally from scouts. Sometimes textbooks are so boring to learn from. We’re just disappointed that the program is only for grade seven – we wish it would be in other grades too because so we can do it again when we are in grade eight next year.”

An official from the Department of Education said the scouts program is being tested this year but will probably continue provided there is satisfactory progress in the 18 trial townships.

In Yangon Region, BEHS 1 Lanmadaw has been selected for the trial.

IT programmer U Pyae Phyo Tha, 30, said he welcomed the reintroduction of scout programs in the curriculum.

“We had no chance to do it when I was at school … when I read about it I always wished we had been able to do it,” he said. “It sounds like a fun way to learn leadership and management skills, team spirit, and morality.

“Books are helpful to enrich students’ knowledge but practical experiences are also important.”

Scouting was introduced in Myanmar under a program for British colonies established in 1910. The Union of Burma Boy Scouts was dissolved by the Ne Win government on March 1, 1964.