Un­der-equipped but over­achiev­ing

Against the odds, blind stu­dents reach the top crop of Myan­mar pupils.

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Struggle - ZON PANN PWINT

LAST week, two to­tally blind and two par­tially sighted stu­dents at the Ky­ee­myin­dine School for the Blind passed the ma­tric­u­la­tion exam with fly­ing colours. Out of around 2000 can­di­dates in Ky­ee­myin­dine exam cen­tre, just 11 man­aged to ob­tain sev­eral dis­tinc­tions, four of them were vis­ually im­paired.

“My par­ents are happy with my achieve­ment,” says Htin Lin Aung, a chubby young man with a charm­ing smile. “My el­dest sis­ter is still boast­ing about me in my na­tive town.” He can. Htin Lin Aung grad­u­ated with hon­ors in his­tory, geog­ra­phy and eco­nom­ics and the ma­tric­u­la­tion exam is se­ri­ous busi­ness in Myan­mar. In fact, for the youth, it is a turn­ing point. The grades that one gets de­cide which univer­sity one can en­ter.

Htin Lin Aung was born blind. He grew up in a to­bacco firm in Pauk, Mag­way Re­gion where his fa­ther worked. Get­ting around the fac­tory was easy, he just adapted to his en­vi­ron­ment. But some­times, his en­vi­ron­ment did not adapt to him. Get­ting into a school, notably, was a strug­gle. “The school in my town did not have a sys­tem or the nec­es­sary re­sources to teach me,” he says.

In 2007, a pro­gram about the Ky­ee­myin­dine School for the Blind was broad­casted on TV and his par­ents saw it. They im­me­di­ately called their el­der son, who was work­ing in Yangon, to in­quire about the school.

A few months later, Htin Lin Aung was dressed in green and white, study­ing. At 12, well in his teenage years, he started from scratch. He had to catch up with the cur­ricu­lum and he also had to learn Braille, a sys­tem that en­ables blind peo­ple to read by sens­ing let­ters with their fin­gers.

Ky­ee­myin­dine School for the Blind pro­vides pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, sec­ondary and high school for blind stu­dents. It hosts over 150 stu­dents. They come from all over the coun­try, and board in the school. Blind stu­dents study with sighted stu­dents in govern­ment-run schools in Ky­ee­myin­dine town­ship af­ter pri­mary school.

Af­ter school, they fi­nesse their Braille read­ing. Some­times, they in­dulge in an au­dio book, their pre­ferred medium. Au­dio books, un­for­tu­nately, don’t help get­ting bet­ter at Burmese and English gram­mar, sighs Htin Lin Aung.

Con­di­tions at Ky­ee­myin­dine are good, but not ideal. Built in 1914, the school is un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Min­istry of So­cial Wel­fare, Re­lief and Re­set­tle­ment. But its fi­nances are dire. Braille books are ex­pen­sive and the school hasn’t had enough of them for each stu­dent.

Be­sides, not all con­tent is adapted for the blind. Some top­ics are out of reach. “Bi­ol­ogy which has a lot of pic­tures,” laments Ye Htet Naing, another vis­ually im­paired who reached the top of the crop this year.

The school is ex­pect­ing a lot from new tech­nol­ogy. Now that every­body is con­nected through cheap smart­phones, new pos­si­bil­i­ties will open up.

Blind lead­ing the blind But the re­form of the Burmese ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is go­ing as fast as the smart­phone rev­o­lu­tion and the blind stu­dents are not spared the worst as­pects of Myan­mar’s aw­ful ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. Like all stu­dents, they have to painfully re-study what they stud­ied in class, af­ter school through a par­al­lel sys­tem of tu­ition class.

The ma­tric­u­la­tion sys­tem the brave stu­dents ex­celled is atro­cious. It con­sists of fill­ing blanks learned by heart in text­books. It is also un­fair. Univer­sity are not cho­sen on the ba­sis of in­ter­est, but grades. Miss your tar­get by a notch and you can kiss good bye to the ca­reer of your dream. The top per­form­ers are sent to med-school, whether they like it or not.

Through­out the sys­tem, lit­tle cre­ativ­ity is re­quired and rote-learn­ing is the rule. The govern­ment has promised to in­ject of good dose of crit­i­cal think­ing in the ma­tric­u­la­tion ex­ams in the years to come.

But for now, peo­ple just have to re­gur­gi­tate knowl­edge and fol­low in­struc­tions, blindly.

Photo: Shin Moe Myint.

Blind stu­dents at the Ky­ee­myin­dine Blind School, Yangon, June 8, 2018.

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