Education, however distant, is not a far cry from us!

  • By Dr Thazin Lwin (YUDE)

When I was at the airport, it was 9:00 o’clock sharp in the morning on 14th October 2019 – Sunday the full moon of Thadingyut. Excited as I was with the thought of attending the 33rd Annual Conference of the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU 2019) Conference in Lahore, it hurt me a bit to think that I would miss the full moon of the year that welcomes the bright Krittika, my favorite lunar asterism in the sky, which represents a family of seven chicken according to Myanmar traditional mythology and which resembles a family, a team, a department to me in a way.

2020 and beyond
The morning sky itself was bright and clear at around 11:30 when TG 2302 carried me off, bound for the Savarnabhumi Airport. But I could not take much care of the sky, which I, lonely as I may be, might have been doing as a serious fan of flying. I was then busy myself thinking of what I had prepared for my paper, and reading the invitation letter again from the Virtual University of Pakistan. I was indeed short of time as I had to read in the morning session the following day. I had prepared a paper just in time, as I previously had not had the intention, to read there under the theme of the conference “Open Distance Learning: 2020 and beyond”. What have we the educators of distance education been doing for 2020 and beyond?
Before the educators from all over the world I would soon present the challenges we have had in redressing distance education. At our Yangon University of Distance Education, the computer-mediated communication (CMC) has served as a new platform of the distance learning systems and as a source of innovative opportunities. However, with its separation of assessment from study, it has also brought about remarkable challenges.
The transit flight did not take long before I could let my mind away into these thoughts. At 1:25 pm, I arrived in Thailand and had a late lunch. The next flight for Lahore was at 7:50 pm.
Several hours later, I saw some familiar faces turning up, the faces of those who went together to the OU-5 meeting (of five open universities) held in Surabaya, Indonesia in 2016. Alas, they would also go there and we could have sort of a party there. I amused myself with the thought that many old mates of mine would be with me, though I was the only Myanmar attendant to that conference in Pakistan.
The working loads of my paper naturally, (or unnaturally but willingly) gave way to amusing greetings, lovely smiles, and friendly warmth of chats.
When we stopped chatting and regained control of ourselves, it was 10:30 pm and we found ourselves at the Allama Iqbal Airport, Lahore in Pakistan, ready to leave for the Pearl Continental Hotel, where we were staying and attending the three-day-long conference.
After the morning shower and a quick breakfast, I was in the Crystal Hall for the inaugural session of the conference.

Exgaging views
In no time did I read my paper – followed by the sudden activities of chairing a session and working as a moderator in a session and so on. We exchanged our views and gave advice we could afford. Now is the time for the gist of my presentation.
There were also some overriding concerns YUDE has had over several years. A lot of criticisms pointed out that decline in the educational quality of the country in the 1960s onward had been linked with the political situations of the country, but with recent political changes in transition, education became an object of attention as a starting point towards the development of the country in general and that of economy in particular. As part of its vision to generate a society capable of challenging today’s heated issues, therefore, YUDE incorporates the challenge of updating its scope into a wider perspective.
As a result of the research, that challenge has brought forth benefits, too. The opportunities in more activities are seen whenever new changes are triggered. There will be more chances of encouragement and support from the other stakeholders with the success of any activity. More challenging and more engaging learning experiences can be created to enable the related community to keep abreast with the times. However, that challenge has the unpredictable threats. It is made open to criticism and blame for any mistakes with the growing attention of others. It may have to resort to the former teaching methods (due to difficulties that could be solved through strategic management and critical thinking). Time allotment or management should be considered for achieving the ambitious goals; otherwise, its aims and objectives will be seen ‘groundless’ and ‘fruitless’.

Alternative plans
Starting from around 1999, YUDE had alternative plans to install an open education system.
As has been seen, YUDE tries to provide the best learning opportunities to its enthusiastic students. It uses the innovative assistance of ICT support team, the experience of the educators working at Yangon University of Distance Education and also the help insights from the UK-based Transformation of Innovation by Distance Education (TIDE). Among the player teams, special mention should be made about TIDE (currently working for the betterment of online pedagogic methods), ICT Support Team, Related Academic Departments, the Rector and the Administrative Board. With the helpful hands of these teams, YUDE is offering more effective and more applicable courses than ever.

Online teaching
To the benefits of both partners, YUDE is presently assisted by TIDE in many of such aspects.
TIDE trains one batch after another of teachers with a view to coping with modern online teaching methods and helps them come up with new teaching ideas. Thus, every single department in YUDE has now prepared various online courses such as certificate, diploma, bachelor and master degrees. In Chemistry Department, for example, we have finished the preparation of courses in ‘Good Manufacturing Practice for Food Safety’ and ‘Water and Sanitation for Public Health’ for the coming academic year. These innovative infrastructures are all oriented towards fully three-month online certificate courses conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Myanmar.
I was admitted to the 33rd AAOU Annual General Body Meeting in voting for presidency and new memberships. While I had my free time, I went on a study tour with some other attendants several cultural and educational centers around as well as to the Virtual University of Pakistan.

Education projects
AAOU expressed willingness to help our educational projects with exchange programs, research activities, publications of research journals, and conferences. I met with potential partnerships who wanted the 35th AAOU Annual Conference to be hosted by Myanmar in 2021 – following the arrangements of Sri Lanka to host the 34th Conference in 2020.
In retrospect, our country was proud of a good educational system in the region, but it had swings, sways and falls against the winds and tides of the circumstances we had. Now, we need a change – a change towards the good. We must always bear in mind that education will never be a far cry from us even though it is distance education. The reason is education is now open to all.

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