It was with great shock and sadness that my husband and I read a short email from a Burmese colleague about the death of Dr Myo Myint. What a great loss for the English teaching community of Yangon University, for English language learning and for education in general in Myanmar.
We first met Dr Michael Myo Myint when he was a postgraduate student at Edinburgh University. My husband, Dr Clive Criper, was teaching in the Applied Linguistics department and Ko Myo Myint was doing doctoral research in the Department of English down the road. Burmese were few and far between in those days and we tended to congregate whenever and wherever we could. My memory of the 1980s is hazy but Ko Myo Myint said many years later when we met again, that he was very grateful for being invited to come and have Burmese food in our house. I expect I wasn’t much of a cook then but to a student staying in digs with not much chance of tasting home cooking, the food I produced must have tasted quite delicious!
For 22 years I was not allowed to return to Myanmar for the crime of having married a foreigner, not even when my 90-year-old mother fell ill. However, like many a Burmese exile, I had never forgotten ‘Burma’ and the desire to see it happy and prosperous again. In the 1990s, after many years, I met Ko Myo Myint again when I was at last allowed to visit the country I was born in. Clive and I had come back to Myanmar to see if we could help, in our own small way, the education of young people: to supply free simplified readers in English so that learners would get more exposure to English than in the few hours in class. Our scheme, which we have called the Myanmar Extensive Reading Programme (MERP), is a structured programme which is designed not only to expose learners to connected English through interesting stories but also to encourage ‘critical thinking’ and get students away from rote learning.
During our first visits, Clive was still regarded with suspicion as he was visibly a foreigner. However, Ko Myo Myint (he was, I think, Deputy Minister of Education at the time) let us look around Yangon University campus and accompanied us along Adipadi Road and to the Convocation Hall. I’m forever grateful to him that for the first time I was able to show my husband my old alma mater, Rangoon University as it was then, the old pauk tree which signalled exam time when it shed its leaves, the English department from which I and my friends would sally forth to the classrooms as young tutors and the Institute of Economics where I last worked before going abroad to study.
We need people of vision and mission to overcome the devastation of the educational system over the past 50 years. Ko Myo Myint was one such. When we met him in the old Mala Hall at the National Centre for English Language (NCEL) which he had set up, it was clear that he was responsible for the general high morale of the place. It was clear his support and advice to members of the staff was crucial. We noted the pleasant surroundings, clean and clear of rubbish with grass cut short and flowering plants, and we were told that it was Ko Myo Myint who kept an eye on such things. It was also quite clear that he was very keen on implementing some programme in extensive reading in the training colleges and NCEL.
When he came at the head of a delegation ‘Burmese Parliamentarians UK HE (Higher Education) Study Tour’ as the University of Edinburgh termed it in 2013, he was able to look around Edinburgh again and feel nostalgic about his time as a student. He was soon to leave the Ministry. I suspect he was an educationist, and not cut out to be a politician. Even though I didn’t know him as a close friend, he had always seemed to me to have an air of melancholy about him. Perhaps that was because he was a widower and had no family to distract him from the cares of office. We had been meeting him from time to time, even in his wilderness years after leaving the Ministry of Education, to keep him abreast of how MERP was progressing. No matter how we protested, he seemed bent on repaying my feeding him Burmese food all those years ago in Edinburgh with meal after meal each time we came to Yangon, even supplying nga-tha-lauk hin because Clive had said that was his favourite curry. I’m sure the Professors (current and retired) of the English department can remember, as Clive and I do, a particularly pleasant evening dinner by the shores of Inya Lake. He seemed relaxed and happy surrounded by friends and colleagues who obviously looked up to him. We appreciated being given his book of collected press articles; I especially liked the one in which he sang the praises of pe-byoke! I had jokingly said to him that perhaps I should follow his example and start writing a series of articles titled something like “A View from Scotland……”
Little did I dream that my first attempt would be about his passing …………
The last time we met with Ko Myo Myint was in his office as Chair of the Myanmar Education Policy Commission just hours before we flew back to Edinburgh last February. As a highly educated ex-Deputy Minister of Education and previous University Rector he was the person uniquely qualified to plan and talk about the detailed problems of Education and English language teaching in Myanmar. NCEL has been resurrected in a splendid new building and everything was set for him to plan and encourage its future development. Likewise we had hoped to benefit from his advice and enthusiasm on how we could contribute to the development of NCEL. Now, it is to be no more.
What a loss. Rest in peace, Ko Myo Myint.
Daw Myint Su