Transformative learning and ideas of citizenship: An ethnographic exploration of transformative education in an NGO setting in Myanmar

Start date: 15 July, 2017 End date: 17 November, 2017 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A31820 Countries: Myanmar Grant recipient: Kirstine Lya Høj Mathiesen Total grant: 13,845 DKK



This thesis explores the personal strategies and educational trajectories of young people living through a double transition in Yangon, Myanmar. The young generation in Myanmar is growing up in a time of change and uncertainties. While navigating their own transition towards adult life, they have to respond to crucial societal changes that evoke both euphoric optimism and grave concerns. Based on a three months ethnographic fieldwork in Yangon, Myanmar, within a small-scale NGO, Foundation for Change, this paper analyses young people’s interactions with the NGO sector, their agendas and practises, focusing primarily on the ways young participants respond to ‘outside’ influences embedded in educational projects. The outcomes of this analysis paint a broader picture of how Myanmar’s transformation process frames and shapes the young generation, and how they, again, influence the country’s ongoing transition towards – what is hoped to be – a more open, democratic society.

The paper argues that the country’s transformation process is consequential to young people’s lives, forcing them to invent flexible (educational) strategies to move through the changing society. They form their identities through personal experiences, dominant discourses and relations of power within daily life and institutional settings in a confluence of change and continuity. Findings locate NGOs as powerful actors in young people’s lives and in Myanmar’s development processes. Through egalitarian pedagogic action promoting particular meanings and ideologies, NGOs tacitly seek to instill specific kinds of sociality, indorsing democratization and the implementation of neoliberal policies. The thesis highlights, however, that young people are not mere passive recipients of global influences embedded in NGO projects. They rework and negotiate NGO objectives to fit their social and educational needs, using the projects to appropriate a social space of their own, disengaged from adult involvement. This unique social space contributes to significant changes in socio-cultural norms and behaviours. The social practises young people encounter – and bring forth – through voluntary, age-based associations propel them to confront social norms and generational hierarchy in Myanmar. They continually negotiate and rework cultural and social norms and values to fit the changing reality, leaving crucial imprints on the country’s ongoing transition towards an unknown future.