Digital solutions can increase access to education in developing countries

Education has long moved towards a more digital age in most developed countries, and the Covid-19 pandemic has pressured societies to adopt even more remote working and learning tools. Both digital skills and the availability of online services are constantly expanding and improving, but the process is different in poor and fragile environments.

FCA is working towards more digitalised approaches in education projects in Africa and Asia, and the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for new solutions. A year ago, FCA’s Coordinator of Innovations Pasi Aaltonen surveyed the pandemic’s effects on the education sector.

“Education professionals at FCA were already making use of technology in education projects in many ways. The digitalisation of education was developing through platforms such as Zoom and Teams, television and radio,” Aaltonen says.

Projects currently utilise simple technologies. Radios are convenient in countries where the means for telecommunication are either underdeveloped or out of reach for low-income families.

In Kenya, FCA distributed radios with memory card slots that enable learners to record lectures broadcasted on local radio, ultimately supporting pupils with revising the classes. Radio education guidelines were developed in the process and shared with colleagues in other countries.

Etualalla radio, jota penkillä istuvat neljä lasta kuuntelevat ja kirjoittavat vihkoon.

Children attending a radio lecture in Uganda. Photo: Hugh Rutherford

In Cambodia and Myanmar, computers and smart devices are used in the training of teachers and career counsellors. The career counselling trainers recorded video material that was further distributed in chats and Facebook groups and also shared by Cambodia’s Ministry of Education.

“The videos are paired up with worksheets since the pupils do not have exercise books. Video-based education is a new concept in Cambodia, but during the pandemic and the school closures, it has enabled education to continue without interruptions”, says Sari Turunen, education specialist for FCA in Cambodia.

In Kenya and Uganda, a mobile mentoring project for teachers has garnered good results, even though few own smartphones. FCA has provided smartphones for the teachers, who generally have decent digital skills. The greatest challenge is guaranteeing a sufficient Internet connection for everyone – and that is one of the key issues for the future of digitalisation in developing countries.

A new training kit of animated videos boosts business in Myanmar

Online learning gains new ground among artisans in Myanmar. Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) training on entrepreneurship builds new paths of cooperation that help businesses grow sustainably.

A new toolkit on artisan entrepreneurship inspires a fast-growing community of entrepreneurs in Myanmar, driven by its popularity and increased demand for remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

FCA released a package of seven videos under the name of Myanmar Artisan Toolkit (MAT). Thus far, 192 people have completed the training designed to meet the demand for new business opportunities in Myanmar. The country’s tourism and business environment has grown rapidly.

The training consists of animated videos on how to start and run businesses.

The MAT education materials offer guidance on starting and running businesses. The training was translated into animated videos and paired with physical working materials that enable independent learning at home and allowing more people to participate in the training.

A Facebook Messenger Chatbot included in the learning concept allows participants to ask advice from administrators and other members of the online community, and watch additional lectures.

The training particularly benefits those that are already skilled in handicraft but lack experience in running businesses. Nin Nu Htwe makes hand puppets and participated in the live MAT-training in 2019 and took part in the online training during the pandemic.

Nin Ni Htwe has expanded her business with the support of networks she built during the training.

“The Facebook Chatbot was particularly helpful for me. I used to work alone, but now I have a large, expanding network of artisans and trainees who I work with”, Nin says.

The training supports quality and marketing

The videos are available in four languages; Burmese, Rohingya, Rakhine and Pwo Kayin. During the first four months, 1,200 users registered to the service.

Htoo Thint Zin graduated as a MAT trainer in 2019 and gained both skills and a new network of entrepreneurs. Her business focuses on handicraft, and she works with 50 other artisans.

“On top of my business, I teach business skills such as quality control, planning and bookkeeping to youth, women and persons with disabilities”, she says.

The training has helped Htoo Thint Zin’s business to flourish.

Htoo credits the training for improving the quality of their local handicraft as well as expanding the opportunities of delivering the products to markets.

“The training has resulted in social and financial gains for my business partners and me, and soon our products will meet international standards”, she says.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) develops entrepreneurship training in Myanmar in collaboration with Lutheran World Federation Myanmar (LWF).

Photos: Myat Kyaw Thein

Career counselling saves futures in Myanmar as the number of school dropouts falls

A career counselling project completely changed the atmosphere in Hlain Tharyar School. Teachers say that there is hardly any bullying anymore, and a parent’s evening changed the pupils’ future.

Primary education normally takes nine years in Myanmar – unless a child has to repeat a grade. The ninth grade is offered only in government-run schools, and families have to cover school fees for enrolling their children in them.

Some cannot afford to pay. These families can access free education in monastic schools, available for children in grades 1–8. There are 1,600 monastic schools in Myanmar. They follow the national curriculum but are funded with donations and by regional councils.

Although monastic schools are cost-free, they cannot offer a primary school completion certificate. Many children never get a chance to complete the ninth grade.

But careful planning is required to get children even to that point. Dropping out of school is common in Myanmar. When families move, their children’s education is interrupted and may even end altogether. Poverty is the main reason: children are often needed to contribute to their family’s livelihood. About 70 per cent of children complete primary school grades 1 to 5.

A large number of students spend more than five years in primary school, which means that there are pupils of varying ages in the final grades of primary school and in middle school.

Shoes outside of a classroom.

Pupils and teachers have to leave their shoes outside the classroom.

Amidst these challenges, there is much demand for career counselling professionals. They have been educated in Myanmar since January 2018 when Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) project began. The objective is to include career counselling in Myanmar’s national curriculum.

The career counselling and guidance project involves three monastic schools and two government schools in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar.

Career counsellors gained the trust of pupils

The Hlain Tharyar School on the west side of Yangon has 445 students and 18 teachers. Two of the teachers have been trained as career counsellors. All in all, the project has trained 17 teachers as career counsellors in Myanmar

In addition to training days, the career counsellors received mentoring from volunteers of the Teachers Without Borders network. To further support their work, they will receive a guidebook in the Burmese language with a wide range of concrete guidelines, classroom activities, and useful information.

Career counsellors give group lessons for pupils in grades 5 to 8, four times a month, on top of the teachers’ other lessons. There is also private counselling, even for younger pupils. Career counselling and guidance is not yet in the curriculum.

Impressed with the benefits of the program, the school administration has allocated a space especially for confidential discussions between the career counsellor and the pupil.

Acting Principal U Zaw Min Oo and grade teacher Daw Thidar Aung both provide career counselling. They say that thanks to career counselling, five students who were dropping out of school last term decided to stay. Their classmates also had an influence on getting one of them to return to school.

A career guidance and counselling lesson in Myanmar.

U Zaw Min, the Acting Principal of Hlain Tharyar School, gives career guidance and counselling lessons four times per month to students in grades 5 to 8.

The career counsellors have shared the skills they acquired during the training with other teachers. These skills include positive methods in group management, student-centred teaching methods and agency for team spirit.

According to them, there have been attempts to improve the atmosphere of the school before but this work has brought about real change.

“We used to experience things like bullying and disruptive behaviour at school. Now we have a calm environment, which makes learning easier and enables teachers to concentrate on teaching,” teachers Daw Wah Wah Khaing and Daw Su Su Hlaing say.

Involving parents is a crucial step for the youth’s future

Supported by the training from FCA’s project, the career counsellors U Zaw Min Oo and Daw Thidar Aung organised a parents’ evening for the parents of eighth-graders. The principal of the school, chief abbot Venerable Sandarwara, held the key position as the convener of the event.

The pupils had prepared their own statements, expressing their hopes to be able to attend a government school for grade nine, the final school year. At the parents’ evening, the parents were asked to show their support for the continuation of their children’s education by taking a step forward in the school hall – nearly all of the parents gave their permission.

This means that their children are allowed to finish primary school and secure themselves an opportunity for a better future.

Text and photos: Hanna Päivärinta

The writer worked as a Teachers Without Borders volunteer in spring 2020.

Finn Church Aid has ongoing CGC projects in Cambodia and Myanmar. The implementation of the project is supported by the volunteers of the Teachers Without Borders network.

Women professionals around the world have to fight daily battles besides ‘just’ performing in their jobs

Every year on August 19th we celebrate World Humanitarian Day. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of the efforts of professionals supporting people in crises around the world. This year’s theme is dedicated to Women Humanitarians.

By choosing this particular group we want to honour women’s tireless efforts to help people in need and shed light on additional challenges that women in particular face.

Being away from friends and loved ones are issues all humanitarians face, women however have to tackle additional challenges and risks. These range from not being taken seriously as a (young looking) woman in often highly patriarchal societies and work environments, conflicting social norms and additional security threats, including all forms of gender-based violence. National colleagues and refugee volunteers frequently find themselves in the toughest spots and at the same time remain often unseen and unheard. It is about time to share their stories. Because these women just rock!

I have the gratifying pleasure of currently working in a female only team of roughly 60 Bangladeshi and Rohingya women on a programme that provides educational opportunities to female Rohingya refugees over the age of 14. Interviewing some of these amazing women for this blog has once more revealed the daily battles many women professionals around the world have to fight besides ‘just’ performing in their jobs.

In both the Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities’ girls as a rule drop out of school when they get their period or get married. This interruption in their education automatically makes it harder for women to get a job, particularly in senior positions. If a girl drops out of school because of getting married, she subsequently often spends her days doing household chores and caring for her husband, children and in-laws, consequently family support is of uppermost importance and anything but to be taken for granted.

Tamara walking through camp on her way to a home-based learning session.

Tamara walking through camp on her way to a home-based learning session.

The aforementioned circumstances were also Tamara’s reality when she got married as a 17-year-old girl. Yet, her life has changed a lot since then. Now, aged 25 years, she says ‘I am an empowered woman now and people see that I bring home good money’. The journey to this point was hard, and she nearly gave up more than once. Some of her family did not approve the path to a career that she chose, and she is still struggling to meet expectations, both her familiy’s and her own. Tamara was fortunate to have a husband who supported her through those challenging times.

Dipa is another DCA staff member who has always been supported by her family, but still faces a hard time with not always being there for her family as this is what is expected from her as a daughter. Work life balance is even harder if these expectations are higher.

A supporting family is a luxury Rohingya DCA volunteer Fatima can only dream of. After getting married at the age of 15 out of love, she was abandoned by her family. Marriages are normally arranged by a girls’ parents in her community. Fatima now lives with her 3-year-old son in one of the refugee camps in Southern Bangladesh. Her husband left her for another women, staying in the same area as she does, thus bringing even more shame on her. Support from him or her family cannot be expected. Fatima, however, still feels guilty and obliged to support her family, as this is a daughter’s duty.

Besides social norms that make it harder for women to have a career of their own, security is often a major issue. Fear of sexual harassment is also often used as an argument to limit women’s movements in order to protect them and at the same time reinforces traditional social norms. My female colleagues are harassed for not fully covering themselves, being on the road on their own after dark, being unmarried, for working, etc. While I am lucky enough not to understand what is being said and ‘only’ have to deal with unpleasant glances, my native colleagues do understand all these undermining comments. This leads to a general feeling of insecurity.

So what drives them on to still keep going, to still keep on fighting?

“Over 50% of the population in the Rohingya community are female. We as women have to help them and ensure women have access to facilities and services”, shares Dipa her opinion when asked what motivates her as a woman to work in this field.

Fatima leaving the Women and Girls safe space to go home to her 3 year old son.

Fatima leaving the Women and Girls safe space to go home to her 3 year old son.

Others insist that it is their responsibility to support the most vulnerable and at the same time very rewarding when walking through the camp and feeling the support of the refugee community. Fatima and Sayema, who are volunteers from the Rohingya community and teach Burmese at DCA centres, tell us how much they enjoy coming to the Women and Girls Safe Space where they feel safe and protected. They are both teachers and participants at the same time, passing on their knowledge in Burmese, while improving their skills in other areas. Furthermore, they feel proud of getting educated. Sayema informs us that her family respects her as she can help them now with their documents.

‘Education can empower people and I feel a responsibility to help the Rohingya’ says 25-year-old Tamara working as a teacher in the refugee camps in Southern Bangladesh.

Involving women in each and every workplace, especially in the field of humanitarian work is essential as it eventually changes societies. In a community where women were not allowed to leave the house on their own, you can now see women in all kinds of different positions, from front line field staff up to managing positions. I am deeply convinced that despite the fact that we as a community still have a long way to go to not only ensure women have the same opportunities on paper but supporting them in tackling the additional challenges, it’s us who set the ball rolling.  However, organisations have to undertake responsibility in acknowledging the existing inequality and better support women at all levels in pursuing their careers. It is time for a change!

Petra Weissengruber

The writer is an Education in Emergencies Professional, currently working as Education Programme Manager for FCA (seconded to DCA, FCA’s partner) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Saving futures – the role of education in emergencies

When thinking of children and youth in their usual environment, we think of them amidst their families and friends, in the playground, and first and foremost, in schools.

We grow up with school being a natural part of our lives. We are nervous on our first day in school, excited to learn how to read, write or count and soon after our first day, school has become part of our daily routines. Getting older, decisions such as choosing the type of secondary school, vocational training or university become key to our personal and professional development.

However, there are also the social aspects of school. Most of you may now think of your childhood friends from kindergarten or primary school. They are often the ones that accompany us all through our lives. At school, children learn how to communicate, to interact and play with others, how to compromise, just to name a few.

When I look back on my time in school, I remember how proud and excited I was to be called a pupil. And that was even more true for my younger siblings for whom it meant to be a member of “the big ones” when they finally were allowed to attend school.

Reality, however, shows that our world is anything but perfect. Not every child gets the opportunity to go to school, learn, thrive and interact socially. Children grow up in conflict zones, are suffering from natural disasters, and as a result are often forced to leave their homes and familiar environment.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 68.5 million people are displaced, among them 25.4 million refugees, meaning they had to cross a boarder to be safe. Out of those 25.4 million, over half are under 18[1]. And while politicians in the so called West want to make us believe that all these refugees and displaced people are coming to Europe, 85 % are actually hosted by developing countries.

We know also, that the causes for displacement are not easily overcome – just look at the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, The Democratic Republic of Congo or the situation of Rohingya in Myanmar. According to the UNHCR, on average people remain displaced for over 20 years[2].

By now you may have become aware of the point I want to make – right – the importance of securing education for these millions of displaced children and youth. Displacement takes longer than before, and simply providing shelter, water, food and medical services over such a long time is just not sufficient for a dignified life with some sort of future prospective.

I am currently working in Bangladesh in the Rohingya response and I’m witnessing first-hand how providing Education in Emergencies (EiE) can impact people’s lives. And that’s not only the case for children and youths but also for the lives of our volunteer teachers from the community. Each context has its special characteristics but overall we can claim that access to at least some sort of – and at best quality, accredited – education gives families back some routines, a sense of normality and perspective.

During class, children and youth can focus on something else than their daily struggle or previous experiences. Education means a gaining in knowledge, but also contributes to psycho-social well-being, emotional learning, the improvement of social networks, and it provides parents and caregivers with spare time for other tasks, such as earning a living while children are in school.

In humanitarian crisis in particular, we mainly tend to think of children’s education. This is not enough – we need to think of sustainable, more long-term solutions and not forget about secondary and tertiary education. Especially youth very often get a raw deal but are at the same time most at risk if they are not given any prospects for their future. Furthermore, if there are no follow-ups available after primary level there comes a point when attendance drops. Opportunities at secondary level and above can consequently also contribute to better attendance in lower levels.

While providing education in emergencies is not intended to compete with lifesaving services, I think we also have to start to acknowledge that the course of emergencies changed and call for a shift to more long-term – or at least mid-term – approaches and funding structures.

Only then can we ensure that children, youth and whole communities do get perspectives and we can hopefully also contribute to changes in perception. What I mean is not to think of displaced people only as helpless and defined by the situation they are in, but as people who have something to offer, who have potential, are skilled, knowledgeable, and so many other things rather than just victims.

Petra Weissengruber

The writer is an Education in Emergencies Professional, currently working as Education Programme Manager for FCA (seconded to DCA) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.


[1] UNHCR: Figures at a Glance

[2] UNHCR: Global Trends: Forced displacement in 2016

New report offers much-needed insights on youth contributions to peace dialogue and mediation

New report published by the Berghof Foundation synthesises the insights from an exploratory study on the youth space of dialogue and mediation, primarily based on case studies in Myanmar and Ukraine, along with reflections from Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia. FCA’s Development Manager, Matthias Wevelsiep, has contributed in the making of the report.

In an endeavor to offer insights on ‘youth space of dialogue and mediation’, conflict contexts in Myanmar and Ukraine were explored in the report. People in their youth phase were conversed with, along with people who have passed beyond this phase of life, allowing them to reflect on their own youth and on their observation of (and interaction with) the work of young people.

As a follow-up to the UN Security Council Resolution 2250, the report makes a thematic contribution to the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, aiming to stimulate a much-needed discourse on youth contributions to dialogue and mediation.

Read the full report here.

Myanmar refugees lacking shelter, food and schools – organisations in a hurry to mend the situation before cyclone season

Organisations are trying to provide refugees from Myanmar with dignified circumstances at refugee camps filled to the brim in Bangladesh. Almost half a million children are in need of education.

”It is unbelievable how densely people have settled in the Kutupalong camp,” says Finn Church Aid education cluster coordinator Kaisa-Leena Juvonen.

Juvonen worked at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in October and November. She directed a collaborative education cluster coordination with various aid organisations led by Unicef. Juvonen’s task was to ensure that as many children as possible have access to education.

The experienced aid worker colleagues with her estimated that the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is comparable to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 or to the Southeast Asia tsunami in 2004.

”There are no roads between the dwellings built of tarpaulins in the wet, muddy and hilly terrain, so delivering aid equipment and building material is a challenge,” says Juvonen.

”The situation is difficult. Resources are small compared to the enormous needs. In addition, the cyclone season is approaching and will hit by April.”

According to the tentative results of a nutrition survey conducted in late October, severe acute malnutrition of children under 5 in the Kutupalong refugee camp has more than doubled since May 2017.

Setting up schools brings immediate relief to everyday life

There are an estimated 453,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 in the refugee camps. Some of them are already in school. More temporary schools are being built all the time.

”The new sections of the camp will have 45 temporary classrooms built of bamboo and tarpaulin for every 14,000 people. School is attended in three shifts, with a maximum of 50 children per classroom,” says Juvonen.

FCA emergency assistance

Finn Church Aid has granted 100,000 euros to emergency assistance to the refugees in Bangladesh through the ACT Alliance. The funds will be used for food assistance, shelter, non-food items, hygiene kits, water points , latrines, health and nutrition, protection and psychosocial assistance.

”If we manage to build more school facilities later, the class size will be reduced to 35.”

Many of the children in the camps are traumatised after running from violence. Many have lost family members. The situation is especially difficult for the 23,000 children who have arrived alone.

”The children need support and the opportunity to be children, even in the difficult circumstances of the camps. Having access to a safe school environment plays an essential part.”


“Only education can save our children from poverty”

Tu-Myaung Village in Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta was hit hard by cyclone Nargis in 2008. Nwe Kyi was thankful her family of six survived the disaster.

But life was harsh. Although her husband Ko* Maung Kyi, 50, worked hard as a laborer in paddy fields and Daw** Nwe Kyi, 49, exhausted herself for a meager wage transplanting rice seedlings and reaping paddy, they often could not even afford daily meals for their three daughters, son and themselves. To make matters worse Nwe Kyi had to worry for her daughters because after the disaster human traffickers tried to lure young women away.

Nwe Kyi had just before Nargis borrowed money to invest in a coconut business. But the ship on which she had sent the coconuts to Yangon got hit by Nargis. She and her family were left homeless while having to repay the local loan shark at a steep interest rate of 10%. The family survived on food aid from local and international charities.

Saving started with 75 cents

A first attempt of the village to start a women’s group in 2009 failed, because no one was able to make any savings while having to rebuild their houses under a lot of stress and post-Nargis traumas. In 2014 they succeeded and now Ngwe Thawtar (Silver Moon) has seventeen members who have been working hard, with support of the Women’s Bank, to make it a success.

Nwe Kyi and Maung Kyi’s home is a proper wooden house.

Nwe Kyi started saving 1,000 kyats (± 0,75€) a month and invested a first loan of 100,000 kyat in two pigs.

“A few months later I sold them for 400,000 making a profit of 300,000!  I invested the profit to grow paddy and made a 500,000 profit.  I then borrowed 300,000 more to continue growing paddy. And now we built this house!” She proudly points at her brand new wooden house.

“We also have 180 ducks providing us a daily income of minimum 4000 kyat from selling eggs. I hope to open my own grocery store in the near future.

Most importantly, while older children could not stay in school because they had to help the family, their youngest daughter is now attending 7th grade.

“We can support her without difficulty to finish her education. Only education can save our children from poverty.”

“I know how to protect my daughters and granddaughters”

Women’s Bank with its Myanmar partner LWF provided Daw Nwe Kyi not only a new livelihood; she also gained skills and knowledge. “I never thought I would ever receive in my life”.

Nwe Kyi with one of her daughters and three granddaughters.

Her favorite LWF trainings include Disaster Management and Preparedness, Maternal and Child Health and, especially, the Anti-Human Trafficking training given by a police official sponsored by LWF.

“After Nargis I was always worried whenever I saw strangers in our village. We heard that human traffickers frequented villages to persuade young women to come with them, promising lucrative salaries. But after attending these trainings I now know how to protect my family, especially my daughters and three granddaughters”.

Text: Khin Moe Moe Aung
Photos: Myo Thame  / c4dm ltd Myanmar

*Ko = Mr. (honorific)
**Daw = Ms. (honorific)

Daw Nwe Kyi and her ducks.