Sayar and Sayarma: Meet Peace Corps Myanmar’s first counterparts
Peace Corps Myanmar welcomed our first group of Volunteers in an English education project in September 2016.
In Myanmar society, teachers are well respected and viewed as role models. Male teachers are called “Sayar” and female teachers are called “Sayarma.” Students bow their heads when they pass by teachers and cross their arms on their chest whenever they communicate with them — all as a way of showing respect.
There are sayings about teachers; ‘Sayar Kaung Ta Pae Pann Kaung Pan, means a student is successful because he or she has a proficient teacher. And there are special ceremonies: The ‘Arsariya Pusawpwe’ ceremony is held to pay homage to teachers during October after the Buddhist Lent. Teachers are honored as one of the five infinite venerables along with the Three Gems, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
The role of the teacher is an important one and we are excited to have American Peace Corps Volunteers taking on this role in basic education middle and high schools.
Despite the status of the teaching profession, Myanmar teachers earn a fairly low salary. As men are expected to be the main breadwinners of a household, teaching attracts mostly women. The job is demanding! Class sizes in public schools are quite large, from around 50 students to almost 80. There are seven classes a day, each lasting 45 minutes. There is only one break time, varying from 15 to 30 minutes.
Teachers have a strict curriculum to follow and must meet deadlines for each unit. In general, a teacher might spend six to 10 classes on one unit. These requirements, along with the large class sizes, do not really give them time to utilize student-centered approaches or encourage student participation. Our Peace Corps Volunteers will play an important role in introducing new methodologies and encouraging critical thinking.
Co-teaching will be very new for our teachers. Most of them do not have much opportunity to practice speaking English so they are excited, and nervous about working with a Peace Corps Volunteer. One teacher said, “We just have to get to know each other and we will work well together!” Understanding, patience and collaboration will be the key for Volunteers and their local counterpart teachers to achieve successful outcomes. We are so excited to watch their partnership flourish!
Peace Corps Myanmar is the 141st country to host Peace Corps Volunteers. Follow their progress on their Facebook page.