The grade 9 English textbook is a slender volume of 90 pages or so. With a white cover and green writing, it mimics the uniforms that both students and teachers wear each day to school.
Mine is a used copy; a little frayed around the edges. Someone has stenciled latin numbers and letters onto the cover. Many student have hand-me-down copies, meaning that someone else has already filled in the answers to the questions posed on the pages. Mine was a good quality copy as it has a shiny cover and the pages are printed without blotches or rubbing.
Every grade and subject in Myanmar has one of these books. The volumes for science and mathematics are significantly thicker than those for other subjects. At $2.50 USD for the complete set of 9 books for the year, it might be forgivable that the quality suffers.
I should offer a disclaimer; I do not have the highest regard for textbooks. Not Myanmar textbooks, but in general. My own teacher training touched on them, but they were something to view with skepticism; you could find decent, useful information but in the time it took you to search, you might as well have created your own materials. It was presented as easier and less time consuming. Whilst I might now disagree with the time and ease of creating your own materials, I would still put forth the ardent opinion that textbooks zap teacher’s creativity.
Many textbooks are ill-thought through with confusing sequencing and unrelatable scenarios to the average ESL student. They tend to oscillate between contexts which are deeply culturally dependent or something which is so unrealistic that it doesn’t appeal to anyone. I have used many textbooks and I have yet to see something which does not need modifying. Of course, modification is in itself not harmful, but textbooks are generally presented as something which is ready to go and can be used as-is. It is this representation which I object to.
However, I remember being very pleasantly surprised by the Myanmar government textbooks the first time I saw them. I thought to myself it would be easy to transform the information into workable lessons which could stretch and challenge the students. In my meeting with the head monk, I sought to explain how the book could be used to reach far beyond the traditional teaching method of standing with the book in hand while talking at the pupils.
I have now had time to become intimately acquainted with the grade 9 English volume. To the point that I could sit the exam and pass in my sleep; we are after all preparing our students to do something similar! In terms of the layout, the units are a little stayed; each chapter presents the same set up of a reading passage with exercises based on the text to follow. However, with the resources available to the average Myanmar school listening is not possible and the exam tests reading comprehension. From a technical standpoint, I really like the exercises given. They cover grammar, and unknown words from the opening text of each unit. Whoever planned this book understands how reading comprehension works.
I am also impressed with the breadth of the information covered; from inventors to poetry, there is a wide range of information. There are 11 units and 4 poems as well as review sections concentrating on grammar. The units don’t seem to fall into categories as such, but are wide ranging. The Olympics, how to shoot a TV show and how to study are all covered. I am keen on the inclusion of poetry into what is a middle school second language textbook. It is dealt with in a very rigid manner; there isn’t much acknowledgement that the text is that of a poem in the exercises. However, this exposure to literature could be formative for young minds. It shows them that language doesn’t just have to be functional. Although there is of course the possibility that if they don’t understand it, they will be put off. Just like western schools who butcher their way through Shakespeare with a bunch of hormonal eleven-year-olds. Still, the literature shows a level of willingness towards openness and culture. It also gives a potential opportunity to those teachers who may feel themselves so inclined to explore the more emotional uses of language.
Overall, I like the grade 9 English textbook and have enjoyed planning around it and supplementing for it.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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