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Jim Brown leads workshop in Thailand

Associate Professor Jim Brown led a workshop for full time and Western volunteer teachers in schools for Burmese migrants and refugees along the Thai-Burma border.

The workshop took place at Umphang Secondary School in Umphang, Thailand, a few miles from the Burmese border. Due to the long-running civil war in eastern Burma the area is home to over 200,000 mostly Karen refugees and migrant workers many of whom are "stateless". Because many migrant schools follow the Burmese curriculum rather than the Thai curriculum (to prepare for the hoped for eventual return to Burma) they receive little support from the government and thus volunteer teachers provide a valuable resource.

The workshops focused on adjusting to team teaching with local and volunteer teachers working together in the classroom. Issues were approached from two directions: Thai/Burmese perceptions of western approaches to work and teaching as well as Westerner's perceptions of Thai/Burmese approaches. Because Thai culture is based more on relationships among co-workers than on the results they produce there is considerable room for tension and misunderstanding between local and western teachers leading to poor relationships and thus poor results for students.

Brown has worked for the past nine summers with Openmind Projects, an local NGO that places volunteer teachers in poor schools in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia where he led training programs for volunteer teachers going to work in local schools. The workshop consisted of a presentation on cultural differences in teaching styles followed by team teaching exercises in which local and western volunteer teachers worked in teams to prepare and present lessons to classes at the school. A discussion followed to process the presentations.

The area around Umphang is among the most isolated in Thailand with a single road leading five hours across the mountains to the nearest city. Most primary and secondary schools have dorm facilities for students whose villages are too far away for a daily commute. Classroom facilities are often very simple with many sharing classroom space among grades and often having too few teachers for every grade. Because of the isolation of the schools volunteers usually live at the school in similarly simple conditions. Due to these quite simple living and working conditions different from those western volunteers are used to, Brown gave a second presentation on the lifestyle and cultural issues that volunteers experience in the schools and the local community.

James Brown,
7/30/2012 8:53 AM