Good societal deeds or western colonisation? The case of Myanmar

Year: 2012

Author: Gutierrez, Amanda, Reid, Amanda, Love, Kristina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The program 'Increasing Local Leadership capacity in Child Centred Education Approaches in Myanmar' was a cooperative project between a University with a specifically faith based mission and two aid agencies. The purpose of the funding was to provide professional development, including school placement, to a group of 'Master' teachers (teacher trainers) from the Myanmar Monastic education system with a predetermined focus on a particular approach to education. While delivering this PD and analysing the research data generated from it, staff at the university were mindful that  such 'outside country' programs run the risk of becoming another instance of increasing western colonisation of developing Asian nations.  This paper explores the extent to which the habitus of the Master teachers and the academic staff involved in this program intersected, as educators with a faith-based mission, and how they diverged.

This qualitative research project used several forms of data.  The data of interest for this presentation was from the Master teachers which included online discussion forums, observations, individual and group interviews, reflective journal notes, research presentations and a final evaluation form and from the academic staff which included reflective journals.  Bourdieu's thinking tools were used to conceptualise the Master teachers' and academics' habitus and to explore the various intersecting fields as both parties struggled to define meanings relevant within and between these fields.

This Bourdieusian analysis reveals that while the Master teachers' feedback on the program was unequivocally positive, there were clear moments of tension for these teachers as they struggled to critically assess and contextualise their learnings in Australia for schooling in Myanmar, signalling the transition from one habitus to another. The use of Bourdieu's concepts also signalled a transition in habitus for the academic staff as they struggled to develop a rigorous, 'relevant' and culturally sensitive program that avoided simply becoming an imposition of western styles of education.

For universities wishing to support developing nations, particularly those faith based universities with social justice as a core concern, these are key issues to consider.  Can (and how can) western tertiary education organisations provide support to developing nations such as Myanmar, where the sudden easing of trade restrictions and influx of international aid make it particularly vulnerable, without it becoming another form of western colonisation?