When we first traveled to Myanmar two years ago, there was little to no Wi-Fi, few mobile phones (SIM cards could only be obtained by lottery and cost around $1,500 each, making it unaffordable for most), no ATM machines or credit card usage, and frequent electricity outages. Fast forward just two years: consistent access to Wi-Fi, excellent 3G, and little need to bring stacks of cash anymore (credit cards are now accepted at most hotels). The arrival of telecom providers TeleNor and Oredoo has reduced the price of SIM cards to $1.50 resulting in a reported 30%+ market penetration of cell phones. Electricity outages are still common, and traffic in Yangon is worse than ever, but major change is palpable everywhere, and ATMs and 3G are just the more visible manifestations of this extraordinary transition.
Recently over 3,000 people gathered to roam the cyber halls of the inaugural Virtual Study Abroad Fair hosted by the U.S. Department of State, College Week Live, and the Institute of International Education. This online event got me thinking about whether or not technology actually can make it easier for different people around the globe to truly connect, share resources, and exchange ideas. There are those of us who would complain about the depersonalization caused by social media and the divide that digital media creates between individuals and real life experiences. And I have, on occasion, wondered if my constant internet use, emails, and social media posts have put distance between myself and everyone else in the world.
How do you engage secondary school students in a dialogue around the world?
We asked ourselves this question a year ago, and our search for the answer has led to an exciting new virtual exchange initiative called My Town. The initiative engages thousands students from around the world in interactive, competitive projects, that encourage students to explore aspects of their own towns and cities while learning about towns and cities of their peers.
Htoo Htoo Wah is the head of the English Department at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, a leading Christian higher education institution in Myanmar. After spending four intense weeks as a visiting scholar at Northern Arizona University, he had a moment to reflect on his experience of U.S. higher education.
Advances in technology and global connectivity have raised exciting possibilities and serious challenges for higher education. In January the Open University of Hong Kong invited educators from around the globe to examine these issues at the inaugural International Conference on Open and Flexible Education. I was fortunate to attend the conference as part of IIE's traveling fellowship, and I was eager to learn about the ways in which technology will impact the future of education and international exchange programs.
In September, IIE announced that it is launching a new course designed to train Ministry officials and university representatives in Myanmar on how to create and manage an effective international education office. The new course, “Connecting to the World: International Relations for Higher Education Institutions,” will be an "essential step to enable universities in Myanmar to connect with institutions in the United States and other countries so that they can build institutional capacity and prepare their students to meet current workforce needs and support rapid economic development." This project is part of a broader IIE Myanmar higher education initiative which seeks to help the country rebuild its higher education capacity.