‘Myanmar offers a very rich cross-cultural experience’
Kipling wrote of Myanmar (also known as Burma): “It is quite unlike any place you know about.” So to discover more, we spoke to Pauline Rosenblum, headteacher of the Network International School, which is situated in Yangon – the former capital, and the commercial centre of the country. eTeach spoke to Pauline to find out what it’s really like.
Could you introduce readers to Yangon?
Still known by some as Rangoon, Yangon is the former capital and still the commercial centre of Myanmar. With an ever-growing population it is the largest city in the country. For many years, access to Myanmar for foreigners has been very restricted. However in recent years access has become more open and now the ex-pat community is steadily growing in number. The local people are very friendly and welcoming to foreigners and in general the city is a safe place to live. In many ways Yangon is a city where, for several decades, time has stood still. Although this is now changing with the influx of technology from abroad: it’s not yet up to the standard enjoyed in many other countries. Mobile phones and internet cafes are common sights now and with the advent of supermarkets, most commodities are available here.
And could you tell us a little about the area where the school itself is situated?
Ten minutes to the north of the city centre, in a largely residential area, the school currently occupies premises on four sites within a mile and a half of each other. Each property is self contained and easily accessed by public transport. The school is currently looking to re-locate the primary and secondary schools to new premises for the next academic year.
Which syllabus do you teach?
Network teaches the British Curriculum, modified to suit an international setting. The local language and culture have been added to the curriculum.
What opportunities exist for UK teachers – and others working in education – to live and work in Myanmar generally?
International standard education is relatively new to Myanmar. But with the political and economic changes which are currently taking place throughout the country, there is a dramatic increase in interest in education. Several new private schools have opened within the last few years, most in Yangon, but a couple in other metropolitan areas, such as Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw (the capital city).
And to work at your school?
Network employs teachers from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc as class teachers for Reception to Year 7 (we will introduce Year 8 in the next academic year). Each class also has Myanmar teachers who are teaching partners and assistants. Part of the role of the foreign teachers is to train the local teachers and provide professional development. Some teachers have also become involved in helping to train local teachers in the wider education community.
What would you say the major attractions are for someone in the UK contemplating working in Myanmar?
Life in Myanmar offers a very rich cross-cultural experience. The cost of living is comparatively low and ex-pats can enjoy a relatively high standard of living. It is common practice for ex-pats to have a domestic helper whose duties would normally cover household tasks, shopping and cooking. Salaries paid here are currently free from tax or other deductions.
And what are some of the drawbacks, compared with living and working in the UK?
The weather is hot for most of the year, however most buildings are air-conditioned. Visas are restricted to ten weeks, after which it is necessary to leave the country to get them renewed. The social and leisure activities are more limited than in other major cities. Healthcare is not of a high standard, however excellent health facilities are available in neighbouring Thailand. Electricity supply has been unreliable, but in general has improved recently. Currently Myanmar operates as a cash economy and payments in country cannot be made using credit or debit cards. The banking system is undeveloped, although there is evidence that this will improve.
What kind of candidates are you looking for for your teaching positions?
We are particularly looking for teachers who are enthusiastic about their role and enjoy working with children.
What support do you offer new teachers?
There is a wonderful, supportive atmosphere amongst the teachers at Network. Teachers work together and help each other solve problems. The local teachers help the foreign teachers learn about the culture and the school routines. The ex-pat teachers help each other to find services (like shops, accommodation, restaurants, a doctor etc) out of school hours.
What languages are spoken?
Burmese (Myanmar) is the main language, but it is possible to live in Yangon without learning to speak Burmese.
Are there any particular cultural and social aspects that Brits might want to know about before applying?
Although Yangon is a relatively cosmopolitan city it is still quite conservative with regard to dress and behaviour in public. It is a predominantly Buddhist culture. The majority of the population have a very low socio-economic standard of living, however the school is thriving because there is a growing middle class who can afford to pay fees at a private school.
What else would you like to say to anyone contemplating teaching in the country?
Most people, even tourists, are surprised to find how much they really like Myanmar. The main reason people offer is that the local people are so friendly and welcoming. Teachers who come to work at Network usually do not want to leave and will stay for years if they can.