Developing Trainers in Burma

The National Centre for English Language (NCEL) is based in the English Department at the University of Yangon.  In many ways it’s the hub for English language teaching and learning in Myanmar, and NCEL staff are involved in a wide range of activities: from teaching undergraduates and post-graduate students who are specializing in English, to designing and organizing training for teachers’ professional development; from writing tests and exam questions for various Ministry of Education establishments, to the marking of civil service and other exams. 

NCEL joined the EfECT programme in September 2015 and have had a full-time EfECT trainer in place since then. As well as assisting NCEL staff with policy work, the EfECT trainer is involved in delivering methodology training in ELT and literature, mentoring individual teachers, assisting with teachers’ professional development and team teaching classes in drama to undergraduate students.

April and May are busy months for NCEL staff. Before they can start marking their own department exam papers, they have to wade through the hundreds and thousands of matriculation papers from hopeful applicants to undergraduate courses, as well as a host of other written papers.  However, while the teachers had no teaching duties we took the opportunity to fit in some intensive training. 

The first week of training involved the 27 teachers who work with undergraduate students on general English proficiency. Training was based around the FIT (Foundation in Teaching) materials which were specially designed for the EfECT programme and after an initial intensive phase from September to November, teachers have been having weekly workshops. For a week in mid-May, teachers attended another intensive course dealing with interactive teaching and assessment. Despite their heavy marking schedule participants were enthusiastic and, for the EfECT trainers delivering the sessions, the benefits of having a solid block of time to devote to training were noticeable.

The second intensive week of training was for 35 English Literature lecturers from universities all over Myanmar. They gathered at NCEL for a series of workshops on teaching literature using a thematic, interactive approach. The training was designed to give wrap-around support to teachers of a new syllabus for the third year BA Honours English Literature Specialisation, designed by the EfECT trainer at the request of senior NCEL staff. For reasons of sustainability, the trainer worked with a steering group of NCEL senior teaching staff who, after careful deliberation and examination of existing course materials, decided to adopt a thematic and interactive approach to their syllabus, and set about deciding on the major themes and selecting the prescribed texts.

The English Literature training was designed and delivered by three members of the EfECT team in Yangon, two members of the NCEL teaching staff and one Australian volunteer. After a series of sessions introducing the theme, the syllabus, and interactive approaches to the teaching of literature, teachers took part in demonstration lessons for each genre followed by a session working on detailed analysis of the lesson they had experienced as students. These demo sessions dealt with ways of introducing students to the texts and their historical and literary contexts and, through participating in interactive text based lessons, teachers got to experience first -hand an approach which actively engages students in the texts they are reading .Teachers were also encouraged to discuss the practicalities of the approaches and activities they had experienced and how they could be used or adapted for their own teaching situations. By the end of the week, a strong team spirit had developed and teachers and trainers will be keeping in touch.

Project overview

English for Education College Trainers (EfECT), which began in late 2014, is a trail-blazing teacher training project which benefits all state teacher educators at 24 of Burma’s Education colleges and Universities of Education.  It aims to improve levels of English as well as encouraging participants to become better teachers by placing 48 English language teacher trainers in the colleges.

In year one the trainers focus on raising the English proficiency of the teacher educators and in year two the focus switches to supporting them to improve their training methodology and enhancing the range of methodological approaches they transfer to teacher trainees.

Background to the project

The project was initiated after a request from the Burmese Government to UK Prime Minister David Cameron for support with its process of educational reform. The British Council and UK Department for International Development (DFID) are co-funding the project which is being delivered through a partnership between the British Council and VSO. The British Council employs around 24 trainers and VSO provides 24 volunteer trainers. In general, one British Council trainer and one VSO volunteer trainer are posted in each location.

 

Train the trainer - developing the EfECT team

The EfECT Train the Trainer Week was held in Yangon earlier this year and aimed to consolidate the teacher training skills of the approximately 50 trainers on the project. Afterwards, trainers gave their feedback on the training.       

1. WHAT WAS THE BENEFIT OF THE TRAINING FOR YOU?

CLIL

A lot of trainers mentioned how useful the CLIL sessions were in ‘raising awareness of how to incorporate CLIL techniques into the methodology course’.  This will help them when planning and delivering methodology sessions to their teacher educators (TEs), to ensure they develop methodology as well as language skills.  A trainer stated that ‘I will teach with more focus on language during methodology’. For other trainers, the CLIL sessions made them more confident about when to use and scaffold language in their methodology classes. 

GIVING FEEDBACK

Quite a few trainers mentioned how the session on giving feedback had extended their knowledge of the issues around giving effective feedback, in particular, raising their awareness of the varying ‘levels of intervention’ in giving feedback. There was lively discussion by participants of their experience so far in giving feedback to their TEs, particularly after lesson observations with some suggestion that Myanmar TEs just want to be told what to do better rather than appreciating a sandwiched approach to feedback. There was also the recognition that on a project such as EfECT with a large number of stakeholders, feedback as a way of generating improvement needs to take account of the priorities and targets that different stakeholders have.             

SHARING IDEAS

For a lot of trainers, in the context of a project where they live and work remotely from most of their colleagues, another important benefit of the training was that it gave them the opportunity to discuss and share ideas and experiences of delivering the methodology course with each other. This included small groups of trainers planning a unit from the course together and presenting their plans to other groups. One trainer noted that ‘planning with colleagues has been very helpful’.

CONFIRMATION

One final but important benefit mentioned by quite a few trainers was the fact that the content and delivery of the training as well as the opportunity to discuss ideas with colleagues has ‘given me reassurance that what I’m doing is along the right lines’. When trainers are working remotely a training course like this can give them confidence that they are delivering high quality training at their education colleges.    

2. WHY IS CONSOLIDATING THE TRAINING SO FAR IMPORTANT FOR EFECT TRAINERS?

Many of the trainers appreciated the timing of the training, firstly as it gave them the opportunity to reflect on their current practice and share ideas with their colleagues about how they are delivering the methodology course. It was also very useful to observe the trainer trainers delivery and how they ‘use a variety of techniques and activities at different stages of a training session’. When asked about the training, key words and phrases included ‘re-energised’, ‘refreshed’, ‘boosted my enthusiasm further’ and ‘refocused my efforts’. 

3. WHAT HAVE THE TRAINERS LEARNED SO FAR ON EFECT?

For a lot of EfECT trainers, a significant amount of learning has occurred in their transition from teachers to teacher trainers in year two of the project. Trainers recognise that, in delivering methodology sessions, teacher educators need to see best practice. This is reflected in the comments made by one trainer about how they are ‘developing greater awareness of my own practice and finding ways to improve, driven by the fact that TEs need to see best practice in my teaching’. As an example, one trainer recognised ‘the need to establish clear outcomes for training and making these available to teachers’. 

4. HOW WILL TEACHER EDUCATORS BENEFIT FROM THIS TRAINING?

According to trainers, teacher educators ‘will really benefit a lot’ from trainers’ participation in this training: firstly, through new techniques learned in the sessions; secondly, from new ideas learned during discussions with other trainers during the week; and thirdly, from ideas and techniques observed in the delivery by their trainer trainers. Overall, as one trainer commented ‘I hope I’ll be able to introduce more variety … into my training sessions’.

Starting Methodology Training with a firm footing

Year two of English for Education College Trainers (EfECT) started with a challenge as large numbers of new teacher educators (TE) joined the programme.  The numbers have grown from around 1500 to over 2200 and the majority of the new participants have little or no teaching experience.   

At the beginning of September, EfECT trainers went into the classes of all their TEs to observe them, and the results of the observations are being used as a baseline for TE teaching competences. As well as setting a baseline these observations gave a very positive picture of the trainees who’d completed year one of the programme.

The methodology part of EfECT had only just started at this point, so trainers were really pleased to see TEs using some techniques they’d observed in year one, during their language classes. These were ideas and techniques they’d learned through watching the EfECT trainers’ using them, rather than being explicitly taught them.  For example some of the TEs were experimenting with more interactive techniques, including group work as opposed to the teacher-centred, whole class teaching training methods they had used in the past. 

In one college a science TE taught a practical experiment to ‘trainee group leaders’ before asking them to go back to their groups and teach the experiment to the other members of their groups.     In other classes there were attempts at group work activities, some of which needed some refinement, as they involved too large groups or no real reason for group work.  These made great learning points for the TEs with constructive feedback being given and they were encouraged to reflect how to make group work more effective in future.      

What’s in a question?

Classes in Myanmar traditionally resound with choral drilling, with whole classes responding to closed questions.  On the EfECT course TEs have been focusing in more detail on using questions and this showed during the observations.  TEs were using a much wider range of questioning techniques, including asking for more individual responses, as this EfECT trainer observed during a lesson on the topic of Alfred Nobel: 

‘She did a lovely starter where she connected ‘known’ knowledge to the coming ‘unknown’ knowledge (to use Myanmar MEd terminology). She asked the students ‘What inventions can you think of?’ ‘Which inventors can you name?’ The trainees started to shout out the answers as they do in Myanmar-style. She cocked her head and said, ‘No no no... in-div-id-u-ally.’ And one by one the students rose to give individual answers.  She wrote the answers systematically on the board. She fed-back on the answers in crystal-clear spoken English’. 

James Ayling, EfECT trainer, Taungoo Education College

TEs have also been inspired to use different questioning techniques, after studying about ‘thinking skills’ in the introductory module of the methodology course.

‘Before, l knew how to teach lower level thinking skills, but after one year of BC class, l know how to teach higher order thinking skills. I want my trainees to be creative’. 

Daw Aye Aye, Geography Methodology Teacher Educator, Taungoo Education College

‘Before EfECT, I only explain and translate the textbook and they listened sitting on their chair. Only listening. It is different now, I will use different techniques. For example I ask opening questions, is, the most important for the trainees. Because the opening question is their own ideas. And if they can talk about their own ideas and [they] create sentences and create words, and it is independent learning. This is good for the trainees’.

Daw May San, Geography Academic Teacher Educator, Taungoo Education College

TEs will be observed two more times during year two: at mid-year and end-of-year to assess how they are applying ideas and techniques from the methodology course and developing their teacher training competence.   If the first round is anything to go by the EfECT trainers will be looking forward to witnessing great developments in their remaining observations.

Success stories from the first year

The EfECT project is now coming to the end of year one. Since the ‘Thingyan’ (Water Festival) holiday in April, the approximately 1500 teacher educators (TEs) on EfECT have continued to participate enthusiastically. 

In May, around fifty teacher TEs went on a two week study tour to New Zealand. As part of this cultural and educational exchange, they visited primary school classrooms and were fascinated by the ‘modern’ classroom practices and techniques they observed. On their return to their education colleges, they shared their experiences and presented what they learnt on the trip to their colleagues. Many of them were also inspired to implement some of the techniques they had observed in their own classrooms. 

Preparation for year two, with its focus on teaching training methodology, is progressing well. This has been a huge collaborative effort - experienced course writers have drafted the eight modules of the course. These have then been edited by the management team and piloted by the trainers with the TEs, to ensure that the course is truly ‘fit for purpose’. 

In the last few weeks, trainers have been working hard with the TEs to prepare them for the end of year APTIS test, which will assess their English language skills. Preparation for this computer-based test has included spending a lot of time in the computer rooms at the education colleges helping TEs improve their computer keyboard skills, as the vast majority of TEs have little or no experience of using and typing on a computer keyboard.     

As year one draws to a close, we asked our TEs to write about their ‘most significant change’ in the last six months. As you can see from the selection of quotes below, the achievements are far more wide-ranging than just the language proficiency gains TEs are making, but also focus on the impact that the project is having on their teaching, their trainees’ learning and motivation as well as more holistic life changing experiences.                  

I’m very pleased and proud of myself to attend EfECT.  It gives me new ideas, more knowledge, interesting experiences and different feelings.  Now I know how to learn English and how to teach my subject effectively.  I’ll always take it through my life.

I can teach our trainees with a lot of activities and games which I learnt from EfECT.  I gave them group work and individual work.  Thus, they worked together in a friendly way and actively.  It’s very important for us.  Because they will apply these ways in their lives and their teaching.  And they’ll improve in the future. They do their work happily, too. So, I hope, their lives will be in successful.

Daw Yin Yin Than, Educational Theory Teacher Educator, Taunggyi Education College 

Now I apply some of these strategies in my teaching.  I find the trainees are happy and interested in learning.  So this course is valuable and worthy to attend for all teachers as new ways of interesting teaching methods and activities are disseminated to us.

Daw Thwe Thwe Hnin, Taunggyi Education College 

My teacher helped and encouraged me, so I was confident and not afraid.  For example, when I was going by train to Mandalay, I sat with a foreign tourist. I talked with her and I also translated for the people around us.  I was very happy and had confidence in myself.  

Daw Khin Ohnmar, Myitkyina Education College

I can teach and use many speaking and vocabulary for my student every day. That is important to be a good teacher. When I teach about that relevance of lesson. So, my students were concluded to me that learning English improved… I can make creative idea and explain lesson well using English language.

Daw Sandar Oo, Myitkyina Education College 

Before, I found it difficult to listen to spoken English, and now, I have become familiar with the accent of the international language which I have been learning my whole life.

U Thet Oo, Myitkyina Education College

Before the EfECT project … I didn’t care much about the things what I used. For example, which objects were produced from which country and how to create them. And I was not very interested in people and their culture, their traditional and their every day life. I was also not very interested in technology and our environment. But during the EfECT project, we’ve learnt everything what I mentioned in the first paragraph, so I started to realize that I need to learn and care everything what I face. Thus, I started to learn about the objects, people and my environment in my everyday life.  

Daw Bauk Nu, Myitkyina Education College

The first 8 months - an update

The first 8 months of EfECT have been exciting and busy with trainers arriving, settling in and taking up their posts across the country.  As well as delivering training, trainers have been active researchers in their colleges - gathering information and observing teacher educators at work.   All of this valuable information has been included in a comprehensive report which will be shared with a variety of development partners working in education across Burma. 

The education colleges have welcomed the project, providing basic accommodation and support for the trainers, many of whom have never experienced life in a developing country before. College staff and teacher educators have welcomed the trainers and now regard them as ‘brothers and sisters’. 

EfECT has also secured and delivered a host of new resources for each college - books, including sets of graded readers, dictionaries and subject related textbooks and also CD players, projectors, maps, mini whiteboards and other teaching aids. Trainers are supporting college staff in the creative uses of these resources to ensure that they don’t just gather dust on the shelves. The project even helped install solar systems in some colleges to back-up existing electrical power. 

As part of the ongoing effort to encourage participation of the teacher educators in the design and delivery of the project, they were asked to write stories that expressed the ‘most significant change’ they had experienced after six months of the project. These stories testify to the amazing impact that the project is having at a grassroots level in terms of increasing confidence in the use of English and also in the use of new methods and techniques which teacher educators are keen to apply in their own classrooms.  

At the beginning of the EfECT project, I felt shy because my pronunciation is very poor. I have enjoyed learning because we can freely express our opinions. Sometimes, I made mistakes but no one laughed at me in class. In this way, I dared to speak out more and more. I also wanted to participate well in class activities. 
Daw Aye Aye Myint

Today I am studying English subject once a day. I have more vocabulary and my pronunciation is improving. Now, I understand the mistakes I make.  I have learned to use games in the classroom. I think this is the most important change because I couldn't do this before the start of the EfECT project.
Kyaw Zin Oo

The project team continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the project remains on track to achieve its aims. As the end of year one approaches, materials are being prepared for the second year which will focus on teacher training methodology. A unique aspect of EfECT is the way it has been able to listen to and observe teacher educators at work in their colleges over a prolonged period of time. The methodology curriculum is being developed based on what has been learnt so far, and tries to combine new 'interactive' teaching methods with more traditional ones. 

EfECT has also partnered with New Zealand Aid and Auckland University on a study program that will see two teacher educators from each college travelling to New Zealand to receive training and also to observe how teachers there work. On their return to Burma they will share what they learnt there with all their colleagues at the colleges.

A day in the life of an EfECT trainer

Alice Redfearn is a teacher-trainer on the EfECT and she shares a story about spending a day with one of her trainees.

Four months ago more than 30 other English language trainers and I arrived in Burma (Myanmar) at the launch of the EfECT Project.  I was recruited through VSO and now teach English to Teacher Educators at a teacher training college in a rural community to the north of Yangon.  I live in a small bungalow on college grounds together with a colleague who works for the British Council. We teach English language skills to teacher trainers using a variety of modern, exciting materials and interactive teaching methods.  Each of our students attends for eight hours a week and in addition is expected to undertake their own self-study. Teaching is a highly respected (if not well paid) profession in Burma and I enjoy a positive learning environment with highly motivated, hardworking and generous students, who gave us a warm welcome to their country.  

I recently got a glimpse of how my Teacher Educator students live when I stayed in the city and was taken to work by Moo Moo.  Moo Moo has been teaching history at the college for 11 years and commutes out every day.

We met at 6am and walked a mile to the bus stop in the dark.  Moo Moo told me that since getting up at 4am she had cooked her lunch, eaten her breakfast and said her prayers.  We walked through the tail end of the vegetable market.  It was already busy with the streets full of people on their way to and from work and with food stalls getting ready for the morning rush.

The bus arrived and we climbed the steep steps luckily claiming a seat.  The seat was shallow with a typically limited leg room and this is no problem if you are an average local, but being an average sized European it was a squeeze.  We then set off on a road I had not travelled before, single track and very rough.  It was busy in both directions and after a few heart stopping moments I decided not to look ahead any more.  The bus ride lasted 80 minutes during which time my guide pointed out various landmarks, told me who from the college lived in each village as we passed.   The bus stopped frequently to drop off and pick up passengers, and those seated held the bags of those standing on their laps.

The bus journey completed, we then took a truck the final 30 minutes arriving at college after a journey of almost 2 hours.

I then began my working day, as did Moo Moo.   For me that means 5 hours teaching the most responsive and hardworking students I have come across in 20 years of teaching.  For Moo Moo it means teaching history methodology to classes of 40 trainee teachers as well as her 2 hour English lesson and any exam or supervisory duties and admin.  At the end of the day I saw Moo Moo leave college at 4pm on her homeward journey.  When she gets home at 6pm she cares for her elderly mother and aunt.  She also runs the family business which closes at 10pm – just enough time to say her prayers before going to bed ready for the same thing tomorrow.  Now I feel I know how (some of) my students live!