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Many of Rangoon’s under-aged teashop workers, who often work long hours for little pay to support their families, will soon be able to study for free, just outside the workplace.
Myanmar Mobile Education Project (myME), is an initiative spearheaded by a group of activists and educators to bring books and classrooms directly to those who need it: in old buses retrofitted as mobile classrooms.
“Providing basic education and general knowledge for children working long hours at the teashops can not only improve their lives, but it can also allow their workplaces to operate more smoothly,” said Tim Aye Hardy, director of myME.
Around 120 young teashop workers have attended classes in the school buses since a six-month pilot programme was launched on 18 January. So far myME has enrolled the employees of two teashops, who commit to two hours of study each day, six days a week. Their employers are compensated for the leave.
The solar-powered classroom is fitted with 20 desks and four teachers, who offer basic education and computer skills training. Curricula are designed by combining materials from the government’s Education Research Bureau and international textbooks.
If the pilot programme proves successful, Tim Aye Hardy says they will go on to serve restaurant workers in Rangoon, and eventually move into some of Burma’s remote ethnic regions, where access to education is often extremely limited. The myME is planning to suit up four more buses.
“We have already reached agreements with five more teashops to offer classes at their places,” he said.
Most of the children working in the teashops dropped out of school to support their families because of economic hardship, said Tim Aye Hardy. Many, he added, have shown great interest in resuming study – some of them even attended class wearing their old school uniforms.
Arkar Moe Thu, member of the Lecturers Union at DagonUniversity, welcomed the initiative and said the union wishes to provide assistance to the myME.
“I think it will be very useful to hear from such groups, regarding their operations and difficulties they face,” he said. “This will allow us to exchange policies in the interest of the public, and allow the workers a way out of hardship.”