Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change, and urgently requires professionals to manage the country’s natural resources sustainably. To mark World Environment Day on 5 June 2020, we look at a distance learning initiative that is helping students across the country to gain vital environmental skills and qualifications.
According to the United Nations, Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change. After years of low investment in the country’s higher education system, there is now a demand for skilled graduates to meet new employment needs, particularly in relation to managing Myanmar’s natural resources sustainably.
Funded by UK-Aid, the SPHEIR Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education (TIDE) project is responding to this demand at a critical time in the country’s development. TIDE is led by The Open University (UK), working with Yangon University, Yangon University of Distance Education and Yadanabon University in Myanmar, plus Irrawaddy Policy Exchange, Oxford University, and University of Manchester in the UK.
Improving the quality of distance learning
In Myanmar, a high proportion of university undergraduates – around 60 per cent – are taught by distance. Launched in 2018, the three-year TIDE project is helping university staff across Myanmar to improve the quality of distance learning in higher education.
TIDE Senior Project Manager Chioma Obi explains: "TIDE aims to help university academic and student support staff develop the teaching and pedagogy skills, media production skills and ICT and library support capacity they need to develop and deliver quality distance learning. The project involves a two-year programme of residential schools, online courses and webinars for staff. So far, close to 500 staff from 21 universities in Myanmar have engaged with the programme, and 19 more universities are set to start."
In working with these universities, the ambition is to improve the quality of distance learning for around 500,000 students, resulting in more employable graduates.
Education for Environment and Sustainable Development
As well as supporting the quality of distance learning in general, TIDE is focusing in particular on environmental science degree programmes.
In February 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Myanmar Environment Assessment Association, a key partner in producing a new Education for Environment and Sustainable Development (EfESD) framework for the country.
TIDE Academic Director Professor Andy Lane says "The EfESD framework is due to be completed in late 2020, and will highlight the knowledge and skills needed to undertake and review environmental assessments. It will also guide universities on the knowledge and skills that environmental degree graduates should be able to demonstrate - and guide students as to the expectations of employers seeking environmental science graduates for such roles."
"The project is also helping university staff across Myanmar to develop vital EfESD knowledge and skills through seminars and courses on topics such as ecosystems, climate change and water and human health. These online courses are open educational resources that can be shared amongst participating universities and provide practice in applying distance teaching approaches."
Catalyst for change
All 40 of Myanmar’s Arts and Science universities are set to pass through the TIDE programme. Professor Andy Lane says, “The idea is that staff involved in TIDE give professional development to their colleagues in other departments of their university, creating scope for wider impact. This is an area where the Myanmar universities are taking the initiative, it fits with their existing cascade model of working."
At a national level, TIDE supports the Myanmar government in implementing educational reforms which will see the day campuses taking over full responsibility for their distance students and preparing their own distance teaching material for the first time.
The project is also working to embed new policy related to Distance Education strengthening in the future Myanmar National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) and is road-mapping a pathway and resource requirements for a Myanmar Open University.
Chioma says, "TIDE is playing a key role in Higher Education reform in Myanmar, through innovation and international collaboration in Distance Education. In addition, by building capacity in Open Distance Learning focusing on EfESD, the project is critical in supporting Myanmar's progress with the Sustainable Development Goals."
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The Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and is managed on behalf of FCDO by a consortium led by the British Council that includes PwC and Universities UK International.