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Sai Hseng Mao: Making digital education accessible for underprivileged youth

Posted: 23 March 2022

Scholar experience,

Australia Awards scholar Sai Hseng Mao wants to play a leading role in making education accessible for multi-ethnic and underprivileged youth in Myanmar. He believes that his Australian education will equip him to reach this goal.

Sai Hseng Mao is currently pursuing a Master of Education in Digital Learning at Monash University in Victoria on Australia Awards Scholarship. Sai Hseng Mao says that this opportunity will provide him with the knowledge and networks needed for “reforming educational policy, creating an inclusive learning environment and providing equal access to learning for underprivileged youth through digital learning platforms” in Myanmar.

Prior to coming to Australia, Sai Hseng Mao completed a Master of Computer Technology at Myanmar’s University of Computer Studies (Lashio). After he graduated, he combined his technical skills with civic education as a teacher at a leading community-based school in the Shan State where he taught human rights, gender studies and leadership skills to young adults.

Sai Hseng Mao is proud to have worked in this non-formal school whose graduates have gone on to work in many well-known civil society organisations in Shan State. He explains that this environment contributes to civic education for underprivileged youth to teach them to “think and provide for themselves, and be active citizens who can contribute to harmony and prosperity in Myanmar.”

Shan State, situated in Myanmar’s central-eastern border region, is home to many of Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups and has encountered decades of armed conflict. Growing up in this area, Sai Hseng Mao explains he has observed the many challenges that young people face in order to attend mainstream school and the very high dropout rates in rural areas.

In his work with migrant workers, internally displaced persons and youth from Shan State, Sai Hseng Mao found that many people shared a desire to continue their study and learning. This has motivated Sai Hseng Mao to want to create opportunities for young people through digital learning platforms and inspired him to apply for Australia Awards Scholarship.

When he returns to Myanmar, Sai Hseng Mao wants to open his own school in Shan State. He hopes to provide a “competitive learning system dedicated to reducing poverty and child labour.” He recognises that as the internet becomes more readily available in society, it provides opportunities for young people who had to drop-out of school or didn’t get a chance to study to continue their learning digitally.

Sai Hseng Mao anticipates that non-formal education will continue to grow in value in Myanmar in the future and that the expertise will be required to implement these programs throughout the country, including in Shan State.

“I see myself serving as a human resource link between ethnic minorities and the state in implementing new learning services, especially through digital platforms, mother tongue-based multilanguage and providing a more inclusive educational environment,” he says.

Sai Hseng Mao commenced his Scholarship in early 2020, shortly before the widespread impacts of COVID-19 were experienced around the world. Living in Melbourne, Sai Hseng Mao endured long and strict lockdowns in Australia. “Last couple of years were the most challenging years that I have encountered in my student life,” he reflects. “However, I managed to overcome those times by balancing my daily routine, to-do list and exercising to cope with my study.”

In between the lockdowns, Sai Hseng Mao has found time to explore some of Australia’s sites. He travelled to the island of Tasmania and other regional areas after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. And throughout the challenges, he “still managed to learn and enjoy some other fun activities such as cooking, baking and sending off new graduates at a virtual party,” he says.

Sai Hseng Mao is eager to expand his knowledge, education and networks in Australia so that he can better support young people from Shan State to continue their learning. Despite the numerous challenges he has faced in pursuing this goal, he is determined to contribute to universal access to education in his homeland.