Click this link to watch the US State Department International Exchange Alumni video promoting the next round of applications for the funding that supported our project. See the picture of our team and the refugee trained teachers at the start of the video (at about 19 seconds into it)!
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Monday, March 11, 2013
|Teachers breaking the ice and a positive mood for training|
|Trainer having a discussion with the teachers|
|Trainers providing the teachers opportunities to identify and express their emotions|
|Teachers blew into balloons if trainer mentioned a source of stress that applied to them|
22 teachers proudly waving their certificate,
With gratitude they expressed “Training was oh so great!”
It was all smiles (and tears) for trainers and trainees,
As we reflect and appreciate each other’s journeys.
The teachers’ passion and commitment humbles us,
To see how much they pour out to the children inspires us!
We look forward to closer partnership ahead,
Knowing the continuing work ahead will be just great!
|Training is over - Looking to the futture|
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
This is an adaption of the blog entry posted at lizdoug.blogspot.com on 6 December. 2012. This posting gives a history of the project from the point of view of a project participant (me), who was asked to be on the team that submitted a proposal to the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF). The proposal was to implement an "intervention" to "help empower the refugee teachers and improve the emotional and academic future of their students." Our project was selected and funded (just under $25K). Then reality set in. The majority of team members are not currently living in Malaysia. Only one team member in Malaysia, Wai Sheng, is a psychologist. The State Department disallowed paying a principal investigator/project manager. Wai Sheng jumped in as coordinator and (unpaid) project manager.
With the focus groups over, the major challenge was how to recruit and train 100 teachers. In December the effort to identify potential trainees began in earnest. Wai Sheng, two of the trainers, and I met at Malaysian Care. The conversation at Malaysian Care focused on logistic issues - how many schools, where were they located, the number of teachers in each school, and possible formats for each school. At the end of the conversation a small group of us headed out to visit a refugee school in Puda, a section of KL that houses several refugee schools.
|Shop Houses in Puda|
Malaysia has not ratified the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees; therefore, they have no legal right to be in Malaysia. (This linked article summarizes the history/summary of refugees in Malaysia.) The refugees live and blend into cities and towns, where they may crowd into small apartments. They are largely invisible to their neighbors.
|The trainers and a refugee teacher|
|The partners - our team, refugee schools, Malaysian Care|
A psychologist, a teacher, a community organizer
|It may be a refugee school, but it still has rules|
|Team members in a classroom/meeting room|
|The center piece of the kitchen - the rice cooker|
We asked the teacher for his opinion about the need for training on children's mental health needs. He recalled how helpful it was when a group from UNHCR pointed out that one child was too quiet and needed special attention. We asked our logistic questions - the first discussion of many other similar ones to follow Among ourselves we debated reaching out to other communities, while recognizing the constraints of available time and money. Even working with a well organized community takes time - contacts have to be made and we have to convince agencies and schools that we are offering something of value.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Dr. Colleen O'Neal, the co-leader of this AEIF Fulbright alumni refugee teacher training project, received an award for the promotion of mutual understanding between the US and Malaysia from the organization that runs the Fulbright program - Institute of International Education. The award was in support of the refugee teacher training intervention research pilot she did in collaboration with Dr. Wai Sheng Ng and Harvest Centre from 2010-2012.
Here's Dr. O'Neal's award for mutual understanding speech:
I feel really honored to get this award. But, as a social scientist, I was confused about how to define mutual understanding or how to judge when this project actually achieved mutual understanding. I had concerns that this refugee education research project might not promote mutual understanding between the US and Malaysia where the project is based. Malaysia is a country that is unsafe for the 90,000 Burmese refugees who have fled to Malaysia over the past 20 years where they are educating their refugee children, themselves, in classrooms hidden in kitchens, basement garage storage rooms, and small, overcrowded apartments in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My guess is the New Leaders Group also had their doubts about how this project would lead to mutual understanding.
But, now, looking back, I think my doubts were wrong. I think I had made the superficial assumption that mutual understanding is like having your first boyfriend: You idolize him and only see the good, he can do no wrong. I think I, and this project, went from holding hands with Malaysia to a real marriage, for both good times and bad, in a deep mutual understanding involving brutal honesty. We were able to develop a program that could be used by the Malaysian government, when they are ready to open school doors to refugees, to help refugee students better prepare for and slowly transition into government schools over time.
How did I use the New Leaders Group award? First, before I received the New Leaders award, I tested a pilot research program during my 2010 Fulbright Scholar Award to systematically help refugee teachers with their classroom management of refugee students’ behavior, attention and emotions so that students could better engage with their studies. Teachers who were Malaysian citizens trained refugee teachers. Second, in 2011, I used this New Leaders Group award to make the refugee teacher program more sustainable and local. I partnered with a Malaysian Fulbrighter, who’d gotten her doctorate in the US, and I partnered with a Malaysian NGO who implemented the program. Third, we then partnered with a large team of US and Malaysian Fulbrighters to recently win a Fulbright Alumni award which will expand the New Leaders Group program to study refugee teachers training other refugee teachers deep in the hidden refugee schools in Malaysia.
How did this award change me? It was not only an awakening to how the global is personal – in how the Burmese government’s continued maltreatment of ethnic minorities (despite recent Burmese government promises) has a global impact and it has a personal impact on refugee kids in Malaysia – but it gave me a taste of real academic freedom where I could do international research and education that I loved.
I am also a mom. My amazing husband and children were such a supportive and necessary part of my ability to work abroad. My kids were the real passport for this research in Asia – getting us access to Burmese government schools, hidden refugee schools in Malaysia, and playing soccer with refugee students, as you saw in the slideshow. I learned that families living abroad can get entry for a project that no researcher, alone, could get entry for. I am also a daughter-in-law of inspirational, intrepid Asia travelers. I am a daughter too and it changed my life completely after my academic parents took our family to live abroad for a year when I was 8, giving me the courage to take my family to Asia for a year when my eldest child was 8.
Now that President Obama has taken a strategic pivot towards Asia, I’ve come to realize that our honest, mutual understanding with Asian countries will only deepen our relationships and humane treatment of our most vulnerable even more.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Burmese Refugee Schools Pre-Intervention Research: Meeting with Burmese Community Leaders - Coalition of Burma Ethics Malaysia (COBEM)
|The Burmese refugee teachers. Note the mural, which is rare at refugee schools. This school has partnered with a wealthy expat private school which has offered some resources like used textbooks and students who came and painted the mural.|
|Students. Note there are no desks.|
|There is a fan since it is sweltering. UNHCR gives most of the schools fans.|
|The students love seeing their friends at school.|
|Expat private school donated these texts|
|Clothing made and sold by the refugee teachers and community members to raise funds for their school.|
|Burmese teacher sewing during school holiday, in order to make clothing to raise school funds.|
September 26, 2012
Our fearless focus group leader, Jennifer, met with Burmese community leaders to get a birds-eye view of the largely hidden Burmese community refugee schools in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- the schools' resources, size, and teacher training. With this information, we can better understand how to help the refugee teachers and students.
Note that there are many more Burmese refugee schools than the 7 schools described below. Burmese refugees make up approximately 85% of the 100,000 refugees in Malaysia. UNHCR-Malaysia has documented a total of 75 refugee informal learning centers, or schools, in Malaysia. Based on those numbers, we could estimate that about 64 of the refugee schools service Burmese students, but there are no clear numbers from UNHCR on how many of the schools reach out to specific ethnic groups.
UNHCR reported a couple years ago that there are almost 20,000 refugee school-aged children in Malaysia who are not allowed access to Malaysian government schools. Only 30% of school-aged refugees in Malaysia attend these hidden community learning centers (5,200 students), for less than half a day each school day, and only until about the age of 12. There are so many refugee students striving to get an education that the second half of the school day brings in another set of students for the afternoon session.
Below are notes from Jennifer's meeting with Burmese community leaders. She first documents general observations across Burmese community schools, then she describes 7 specific schools in more detail:
General Burmese community school and student information:
- UNHCR pays teachers RM500 (US$165) only if they have UNHCR cards and if there are more than 50 students in the school. Teachers are required to go for training in Harvest for a year and only after 1 year they get compensation from UNHCR. As such, many teachers are not able to make ends meet and find it hard to survive.
- The Burmese leaders report that refugee kids tend to stop schooling by the age of 15 in general. We've heard from UNHCR that most of the refugee students cannot get access to schooling past age 12.
- UNHCR does provide textbooks and materials, a start up, and a one-off grant.
- Students face security issues when they go to school – mostly robberies from local Malaysian kids
- Most Burmese community schools waive the fees if families cannot afford it and if the child is an orphan.
- There are some Burmese learning centres outside Kuala Lumpur – in Cameron Highlands and Penang – but not many and the KL Burmese leaders do not have direct contact with them.
Community 1: Kachin Community (Kachin Refugee Committee)
- Two learning centres with 240 students in total, approximately 30-40 students in one class during one session
- 14 teachers (male & females) in two learning centres, 2 male cooks – all personnel are refugees
- Students’ fees: RM50 for primary school, RM70 for secondary school. Fees include 3 meals and transportation costs.
- Teachers lack experience and ability. Most have not received any training after the basic Harvest Centre training.
- Courses taught are fixed by UNHCR and NGOs
- Rent for the centres are paid by the church – but bills are paid for by the communities.
- Not too sure exactly how many students or teachers in the school but teachers have expressed that they are short of staff as many have been resettled in the last few months.
- Teachers function independent from the community
- Currently the main need for the school is a field and to cover the premises' rental fees
- Students fees: RM30-40
- 1 Learning centre with 60 students
- 2 permanent teachers but only one gets a constant pay from UNHCR, 2 part time volunteer teachers
- Classes are often overcrowded and so they organize outings just to get them out of the classroom
- Due to the overcrowding, student encounter a lot of Health problems – including flu, fever
- Education programs are developed by the community
- Only about 10 students in the community as most of the have been resettled
- The only classes they have are Chinese and Shan language classes
- There are no able teachers in the community to teach other subjects such as maths, science, English.
- Teachers do not get an income from UNHCR
- 1 learning centre with 60 students
- 5 refugee teachers but all are unregistered with UNHCR and have no experience teaching the subjects they have been assigned to teach. An NGO in Ampang also provides part time teachers.
- As the teachers are unregistered they receive no remuneration from UNHCR and are not interested to teach as they are trying to make ends meet themselves. At times they do not turn up for classes.
- 1 learning centre with 80 students
- Teachers are not qualified; Students are Grade 1-5
- Students are not able to speak and write English or communicate with the teachers
- School mainly for adults
- Subjects include: English communication skills, grammar and vocabulary, speaking and listening
- Textbooks come from UNHCR
- Teachers are not registered with UNHCR and all provisions are from the community itself
- There are 17 communities under this alliance with 1400 students
- One learning centre to provide rep – has 174 students
- Teacher compensation is low so many people in the community prefer to go into other professions and the schools face problems in attracting qualified teachers due to this low compensation
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Second Focus Group: How do Burmese Refugee Teachers Manage Behavior, Attention and Emotions in their classrooms?
|Discussion group from 2011 with Burmese refugee teachers. We were not able to take a photo of this current focus group discussion participants.|
October 6, 2012
How amazing to get 9 Burmese refugee teachers together to do our second refugee focus group! They were very honest about the challenges they face, along with how they foster hope and motivation in both themselves and their refugee students.
Our ultimate goal with these refugee teacher focus groups is to understand how we can best help the refugee teachers manage their refugee students' behavior, attention, and emotions.
Focus Group Results:
Sample: The Burmese ethnic minority classifications of the 9 refugee teachers were: 1 female Kachin, 1 male Karenni, 1 female Karen, 1 male Mon, 2 male chin, 1 male Arakan, and 1 female Shan, and 1 male Shan. There were at least 12 different "informal learning centres" (refugee schools) represented at the focus group, with some participants working at more than 1 centre. It was observed that the stronger English speakers in the focus group tended to dominate the discussion, and, given the predominance of males and some cultural pressures, men dominated the focus group discussion too.
Burmese Refugee student emotions, attention, and behavior:
- The students feel useless and very HELPLESS when it comes to helping their families
- Teachers feel helpless or unable to understand the emotions of their students – QUOTE on in our culture we do not focus on feelings
- Teachers think of student attention in terms of students either listening and being slow/fast learners
- Students sometimes stare blankly at the chalkboard
- Teachers lose the attention of their students easily since it is hard to keep students occupied with activities in class
- Teachers seem to have trouble answering what emotions the students experience, explaining that open discussion of emotions is not encouraged in Burmese culture:
"[Our Burmese community teachers and students do] not focus on such feelings as it is not our culture to do so. We as teachers cannot control our students’ emotions because it is not our culture to do so. We focus on the subject matter and we run the school to teach them for their future." (Community refugee school teacher)
Issues raised around Burmese Refugee Teacher Behavior, Attention, and Emotion management:
- HOW MOTIVATE STUDENTS? What incentive do they have to study?
- It is very important to the teachers that the students respect them
- The teachers do not want to lose respect by being too positive in their behavior management
- The teachers feel a struggle between being too strict and too lenient
Teacher Classroom Management Strategies of Students' Behavior, Attention, and Emotions:
- Prioritizing needs is necessary given overcrowding in their classes
- How give individual attention to the many needy students?
- Teachers feel guilt and frustration over not being able to meet all students’ needs
- Give students responsibilities in class like helping with cleaning up the class
- Corporal punishment is commonly used by the refugee teachers, and they grew up with their teachers in Burma using punishment with them.
- Positive management strategies brainstormed/discussed:
- Positive rewards
- Skills training for students
- Relationship-building with teachers
- Instilling hope in students for the future
- Peer mentorship of students at lower grade levels
Teacher Stress and Self-Care:
- Teachers are living the life of refugees themselves, which adds a lot of stress to their being able to function as focused, attuned teachers
- Self care
- Religion and prayer
- Motivations like love of community
- Personal affirmations
- Sharing of problems
Recommended next steps:
- Choose which refugee schools and ethnic groups to focus on
- Visit to the refugee target schools
- Build relationships with target schools
- Recruit refugee teachers for training and consultation
- Include cultural and belief systems in training
- Help teachers identify student emotions
- Collaborate with and train them in how to help students identify and manage their emotions?
- Acknowledge teacher resentment and frustration combined with hope and determination
In the best of all possible worlds, we can design an ideal, culturally-attuned refugee teacher training program, but fundamental basic educational needs need to be met, like school resources, access, classroom size, food, etc.: “Teacher training is more focused on the teaching methods. However as you know, our teaching is not effective due to some outside factors such as the school building is not enough.” (Community refugee teacher) Teacher training cannot tackle insurmountable obstacles posed by countries hostile to refugees, and training may not be effective in improving refugee students’ futures without improved refugee rights and conditions in Malaysia.