"It is imperative that efforts be undertaken to equip Myanmar's citizenry, especially women, with the knowledge, skills, confidence, and other abilities to shape a democratic, trustworthy, and vibrant local information society."
In 2017, the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF) engaged in a project designed to provide information technology (IT) training to foster employability and leadership skills for young women in Myanmar. The main objectives of the project are to 1) provide training to 500 women and youth in mobile information literacy (MIL); 2) provide specialised IT and leadership training to 50 girls age 16-20 through the Tech Age Girls (TAG) programme (see Related Summaries, below); 3) prepare 20 librarians with advanced MIL so they can provide ongoing support for their communities; and 4) disseminate this MIL curriculum through government initiative of ICT for development. It is hoped that this project will contribute to the economic development of Myanmar, a country that is in transition.
Equal Access to the Information Society in Myanmar consisted in the following two main components:
I. MIL Millions of people come online via mobile devices around the country. Therefore, MBAPF states, MIL is vital for those who have leapfrogged from traditional media to digital devices that provide access to information. After learning all the modules of MBAPF's MIL curriculum, participants - 588 trainees (master librarians) from 18 libraries - demonstrated changes in their lives as a result, such as the ability to complete online job applications, access government services and quality sites, and access educational materials online, using maternal and health applications (apps) and getting agricultural news.
II. TAG As part of MBAPF's participation in IREX's TAG programme, TAG identified promising female leaders between the ages of 16-20 from throughout the country and provided them with essential leadership and job skills through an engaging, integrated programme based at public libraries. MBAPF believes that libraries have the potential to provide a neutral and trusted space for girls and young women to learn and develop new skills. Providing support to 50 young women via 10 more libraries from public libraries, TAG worked with a selected group of Myanmar young women without other access to technology training in IT and leadership skills to improve their job skills and help them become role models for youth in their communities.
MBAPF finished all the TOT (Training of the Teachers) modules and cascade trainings, and all of these young women (10 of them supported by the ISIF Asia project and another 10 by Microsoft sponsorship) are carrying out community development projects, such as developing information and communication technology (ICT) training at their respective libraries and carrying out outreach programmes at nearby schools. During the October 30 2017 "Leadership Summit for TAG and Innovative Library Award Giving Ceremony" (see video, below), MBAPF gave awards to the three most outstanding projects (Introduction to ICT, Digital Literacy to Women, and Women Empowerment Programme), which Ooredoo Myanmar is committed to sponsoring in the community, so that the benefits continue to grow. (Over 200 participants attended the summit and awards ceremony event, including Union Ministers of Information, General Manager of Microsoft, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ooredoo Myanmar, and Director General of the Ministry of Education.
During the course of the project, MBAPF secured additional support from organisations including Ooredoo Myanmar, which agreed to contribute 575 laptops and free internet of 40GB per month package per library for one year. Ooredoo is now planning to extend this memorandum of understanding (MoU) for another year.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) found out about MBAPF's training through media coverage of the project. This led MBAPF to sign an agreement with UNESCO for a project called "Sustainable Livelihood and Food Security". As part of this effort, MBAPF conducted MIL to 1,000 people who are from the agriculture and livelihood sector. The organisation also provided training to agricultural extension workers from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government, media personnel, and information personnel, including librarians from Ministry of Information. Many of these trainings took place at MBAPF's community and public libraries. Training was completed in October 2017, and UNESCO is planning to extend it to an additional 240 trainees in 2018.
All project activities are monitored and evaluated by using a methodology developed together with United Nations University (UNU). Each training session was pre-assessed beforehand, with a post-training assessment also done. (See Key Points, below, for some of the results.)
To facilitate the above-described process, Assistant Trainer Htet Aung received training at JFDI.Asia in Singapore. During this GoGlobal programme, Htet explored new ways to find partnership and enhance his capacity of taking a representative role for MBAPF in its training and advocacy efforts going forward. On that note, the project team is participating in policy development, as its project leader is the Universal Service Strategy working group leader, where he has been advocating for this approach to be supported by the 2% revenue that the internet service providers (ISPs) in Myanmar will have to put towards community projects around access.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Women, Youth, Economic Development
MBAPF explains that, since mid-2011, Myanmar has been going through an unprecedented change as it emerges from five decades of military rule and struggles to advance three major structural transformations: from authoritarian to democratic rule, from economic isolation and underdevelopment to an integrated market economy, and from war to peace. Myanmar is also on the precipice of a fourth transformation, one that holds the potential to strengthen individual abilities for democratic citizenship. This fourth transformation is that Myanmar is leaping across the digital divide, due to the government's liberalisation of all media and the opening of the telecommunications market. The mobile penetration rate has climbed to 65% in 2016, up from 14% in 2010. Content, too, has grown exponentially. Print media sources have proliferated, and restriction on internet content, as well as foreign news sources and media, have been lifted. Myanmar's citizens now have more choices than ever before.
However, this explosion of connectivity and information does not mean that people have the appropriate knowledge and skills to take advantage of these changes. The general population lacks digital, information literacy, and critical thinking skills. There is a huge deficit in people's ability to find and evaluate the quality and credibility of information obtained online, to create and share online information effectively, and to participate safely and securely. There have been numerous reports of how postings on Facebook have spread rumours and inflamed racial and communal tensions, in part due to the complicity of major media and the susceptibility of ordinary citizens who have little history of questioning the authenticity of online information. This may be especially true of women and youth, indicating that concerted effort is needed for these population groups.
Libraries have started offering technology and guidance in making use of the internet, but there is still disparity among those benefiting from this new service. Data collected by libraries indicate that library tablets are being used twice as much by boys than girls. In Myanmar, the technology sphere is dominated by males, with female largely left out of this rapidly expanding field. According to a GSMA-sponsored LIRNE Asia Report (see Related Summaries, below), women in Myanmar are 29% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. According to IREX's report "Ending the Gender Digital Divide in Myanmar" [PDF], online safety is a big challenge in Myanmar because of a popular perception that women are weaker than men, especially young women. Online harassment is more prevalent for women, particularly on Facebook.
MBAPF was founded in 2002 by a group of librarians, businesspeople, and civic leaders with the goal of promoting knowledge and learning among Myanmar people, especially those in disadvantaged communities. MBAPF works in conjunction with local and international NGOs to assist libraries with training and donations of printed and digital material, and the preservation of Myanmar historical and contemporary print culture. MBAPF is supporting libraries with books, ICT infrastructure, and training to librarians with new library services.
"The most important finding of the project is the confirmation that with the availability of connectivity alone will not give effective usage of Internet. Proper and effective digital and information literacy trainings are very much important to strengthen the level of skill and knowledge of people." According to MBAPF's assessment of 588 trainees, there was an over 15% increase in overall skills of digital literacy, especially MIL. This impact is seen after only three days of training. This skill set can be improved more with repetitive usage of digital devices in online environment. MBAPF cites the following benefits from the MIL and TAG trainings:
- Librarians are able to help community members with searching for online information such as health, education (scholarship), and agricultural and livelihood information.
- Librarians are able to help communication (by using Skype, Viber, and Messenger), and villagers can save a lot of money on their communication.
- Librarians are able to help finding online jobs for members of their community.
- Librarians are able to help people use online tools safely; privacy issues are taught to the users.
- Some libraries, such as Jotiparla library in Baganm, have been implementing outreach programmes by introducing MIL to nearby offices such as immigration, police stations, and tourism ministry offices.
- IPRD Htantabin library partnered with other local organisations to give training of MIL, took part in a Communication of Development project, and has been giving training to agricultural extension workers.
- Amyin Thit Community Library has been conducting MIL training and even advanced computer science programme such as Minecraft game creator programme.
Ministry of Information, Information and Public Relations Department. Funding from Ooredo, Microsoft, UNESCO, and the Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF), which is supported by Canada's International Development Research Center (IDRC), the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC), the Internet Society, and the Dot Asia Organization.
Emails from Sylvia Cadena to Liane Cerminara of the International Development Research Centre and to The Communication Initiative on November 20 2017 and January 23 2018, respectively; and Tech Age Girls - Myanmar Concept note, v1, October 2015 [PDF], ISIF Asia Project Factsheet [PDF], and MBAPF website - all accessed on January 25 2018. Image credit: MBAPF