Friday, 9 July 2010

Our Burmese Nursery

"Do you have any coloured paper with you?" the nursery teacher pleaded as she showed us round her bare classroom. She had done the best she could in a poor space, making little pictures of butterflies, faces and houses to brighten the dark room. "You have such lovely things in your nursery, we have nothing." Then we realised she was referring to the amazing book that Campie Nursery had sent them last term, which showed the normal life of a very good Scottish Nursery. For her, she felt so sad, almost embarrassed because she has no resources to give her children these experiences.

As we left, we all felt so sad and frustrated at how poor the learning provision was for these early years children. Here are some of the thoughts going through my head as I pondered on this.

1. For 3 years, I have worked with Fiona, a Forthview teacher, to explain why early years is the most important stage of learning to the Burmese teachers we've worked with and to the headteachers I had the opportunity to train. They just don't see it at all. Generally, the least skilled, untrained staff are put to work with early years. The best trained, brightest teachers work with the oldest children. In training last year, I used the phrase, 'Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.' My lovely and experienced educationalist interpreter could not understand it to translate. Why? I think that when your people are living in such extreme poverty and providing children with food and basic education is such a difficulty, then your priorities all become short term. How can we equip our children who are becoming adults to survive in an alien (Thai) society? becomes the best they can do. Although, the emphasis on secondary education and the oldest pupils is perhaps an Asian perspective on education too. Who are we to say it's better to work with the early years children first? Is it? I've questioned that so many times over the last 3 years but I am completely convinced it is. It's been so good for me to go back to ask these basic questions of why do we believe this? Why do we value active learning? Is play important? It's taken me back to the Highscope Pre School Project in the US, which showed in the 60s the impact on society of investing in early years. Fiona and I have this dream of one day being involved in setting up an early years centre here with our beloved Burmese children to show how powerful the impact of learning through play and investigation is .... Is that just arrogance? Yesterday's visit brought all these feelings, thinking and passion back to the forefront of my mind and I left CDC Nursery disturbed in my soul!

2. We're going to the stationers to get them coloured paper with some of the money Campie raised.

3. GILLIAN LENDRUM, we've all agreed that next year you MUST come as the Campie exchange teacher. You have transformed that horrible hut in the playground, almost as bad as CDC nursery into a wee paradise. You have of course had loads of capital to do it with - budget, parent and staff skills - but if anyone can help this committed Burmese nursery teacher to have the nursery she wants for her children, you can! We all agreed this at dinner last night!

That'll do for just now. Must go as we are off to the boarding house, which will enable us to tell you more of the plight of these children without parents here in Mae Sot. 529 boarders/looked after and accommodated children here in CDC school alone!



  1. I hadn't heard of the HighScope study, so went looking for some details. The difference in the program group, at age 40, across a number of measures, is staggering. There's a good chart in a one-page summary here: it
    I hope you got them plenty coloured paper!

  2. Not wholly relevant, but I saw this and I see the connection...
    --Robert Hart