Onwards and upwards at St John's
Father Lucas Tha Ling Sum called it an “education revolution”. As the Chancellor of the Hakha Diocese in Myanmar’s far north‑west, he implemented a program that changed the very landscape of education in the diocese and ensured, for the first time in over sixty years, its children were being taught at a level near those in neighbouring countries in the region.
The generous contributions of Catholic Mission’s supporters ensured St John’s School could be built in Hakha, providing a child-centred learning environment for local children in the area. Quickly, enrolment reached 51 students in the first year across three grades—pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grade one. Catholic Mission not only supported the funding of the bricks and mortar to build the school, but also a bus to safely transport children to and from their homes, and three qualified teachers who would implement a new curriculum based on the Montessori method.
St John’s School was truly a ground-breaking project in the diocese—the first school of its kind in six decades since a 1962 coup resulted in the closure of missionary-run schools—and parents immediately noticed change.
Mrs Tha Chin Par says aside from the literacy and spoken English skills her daughter has learnt at St John’s, it is an increased level of proactivity around the home that has most impressed her. ‘I never thought that a child could do activities such as cleaning the room, setting the table and washing clothes,’ says Mrs Tha. ‘But when I saw my daughter doing these things, I felt surprised, and I am very happy with no words to express it.’
Mrs Tha Chin Par says aside from the literacy and spoken English skills her daughter has learnt at St John’s, it is an increased level of proactivity around the home that has most impressed her.
‘I never thought that a child could do activities such as cleaning the room, setting the table and washing clothes,’ says Mrs Tha. ‘But when I saw my daughter doing these things, I felt surprised, and I am very happy with no words to express it.’
Mrs Tha and other parents in Hakha are thrilled with how their kids are developing as a result of the program, but one of the major concerns was its sustainability and continuity. ‘I’m worried for my daughter if St John’s can’t build new grades,’ San Waen, the father of a first-grade student, told us last year. ‘She is doing so well, and I really fear for her future if she has to leave St John’s.’
Thanks to your generous contribution through our work with communities, Catholic Mission has been able to provide the funding and project support to ensure St John’s can progress its students through to higher levels of school, maintaining their dedication to the children’s learning and development. The most recent academic year, from June 2018 to June 2019, saw 155 students enrolled in the school. Two additional grades were added—second and third— with nine fully qualified teachers joining the roster.
These teachers came through specialised training programs established by the Myanmar Church and supported by Catholic Mission’s work with communities. The training programs are run at the Pyinya Sanyae Institute of Education and the Episcopal Commission for Education and prepare teachers with an approved curriculum to teach in rural parts of Myanmar.
‘The community response to the school and its teaching program has been overwhelmingly positive to date, with demand for places far exceeding the current supply,’ says Father Lucas. This burst of student numbers meant that a second school bus had to be purchased, and this was achieved with the support of Catholic Mission’s donors.
With scores of new students joining the school each academic year, it would need to expand.
Again, Catholic Mission’s supporters answered the call, providing the funds to enable construction of a second school building.
'On completion, the second building will facilitate the school’s expansion to a full primary school with eight new classrooms,’ says Father Lucas. ‘This will enable St John’s to cater to over 250 children from across Hakha, improving access to education in the region.’
The sustainability of St John’s School is tantamount to the sustainability of education in the Hakha Diocese and its flow-on effects for the community, the region and the country. Thanks to Catholic Mission’s partnership with the Diocese and the contributions of our supporters,
the school’s sustainability is ensured. Father Lucas says the benefits are there for all to see. ‘Having a safe and well-appointed school building has improved the quality of the learning environment for the students and increased the parents’ interest in their children’s education,’ he reports. ‘The teaching method at St John’s has been helpful for the school’s children with special needs [currently numbering six], who are learning well with the support of their teachers, parents and classmates who learn with them.’
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, says the support Catholic Mission’s donors have provided is a source of inspiration to the Church and people of Myanmar.