The School of Life
BEAM Education Foundation director Kyaw Kyaw Min Htut explains why internal motivation and resilience are even more important than a university degree when it comes to leadership.
How does BEAM approach vocational training with migrant workers in northern Thailand?
At BEAM’s center in Chiang Mai, we can conduct trainings for around 300 people per year, but there are hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in northern Thailand. We cannot tell ourselves that we will train all of the workers—it is impossible. Instead we have to accept their natural way of learning: a large number of migrant workers improve their skills by themselves. The problem is that no authority or institution recognizes them. We need to recognize them so there can be opportunities for them to go further. This is very important.
What are the common misconceptions around vocational training?
There is a very limited number of people who can go into higher education and pass through university. But there is a large number of workers who will develop their [vocational] skills. We cannot say that only the ones who finish university can be leaders. The ones who study these technical skills can also be leaders. They prove it—they become trainers. When we look at individual workers, and the way they develop their skills on their own—they are really learning. If we had a way to make it more systematic, it would be a tremendous opportunity.
What personal qualities do you often see in the people you train?
They have internal motivation. They have resilience. When they attend workshops or youth conferences, they get more exposure, so they get inspired and feel they are not alone—they are connected. Trainings and youth networks are useful not just to build technical skills, but to promote workers’ mental strength.
How is your training approach in Myanmar different from Thailand?
We have non-formal educational programs and vocational programs in nine states and divisions in Myanmar. We do not organize our own trainings with our own teachers there. We have over 50 local organizations as partners, so we consult community-based networks and ask them what they need. We let them organize trainings and we support it. We are behind the scenes, encouraging them. It could be a tailoring training in Pyin Oo Lwin or a weaving training in Shan State or jam-making in Karen State or agricultural training in Rakhine State. We have helped with all of these.
BEAM also conducts research around vocational training. What are you working on now?
Let me explain. Construction workers, for example, are only allowed to carry bricks. They aren’t allowed to make the buildings. But in reality, they improve their skills and they make the buildings. Their school is their real life. What we need to do is test this, assess them, and recognize them. We are focusing our research on this, on the coping strategies of migrant workers to develop their own skills. We want it to be totally participatory. We finished the consultation meetings in 2019 with community partners in Chiang Mai and Mae Sot, and with migrant workers in construction camps and the market and domestic workers. I used Monitoring and Evaluation tools I learned from Partners Asia for this.
What do you feel is the impact of your vocational training work?
It can affect four generations. If we educate one person in skills development, it will help their parents and grandparents, and themselves, their siblings and their children. Our trainings do not only offer technical skills, they are a package: we try to support business planning and thinking—how to make networks and find a market—and enterprise, too. Participants learn to see more widely and systematically.
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