Students from MJI’s diploma course joining in a Zoom lecture.

With the escalation of COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar Journalism Institute (MJI), Fojo’s regional partner in Myanmar, closed down their office in Yangon on 25thMarch enforcing work-from-home due practice. The closure of MJI’s office forces its staff to continue their works from online.

Though digital culture has been steadily booming in Myanmar, there remains many challenges when it comes to the sudden shift to ‘work-from-home’ status, mainly for the lack of supportive infrastructure such as internet and electricity especially in remote areas across the country.

With this unreadiness, one of the major challenges of MJI is the preparation towards the digital learning practice for its students. MJI’s Executive Director Kyaw Min Swe and the trainers share Fojo Media Institute regarding the immediate challenges that MJI is facing, both in management and teaching-learning process, and how they plan to operate during this crisis situation.

Fojo: When did MJI start the digital learning?

KMS:On 23rdMarch, Myanmar Government announced the first COVID-19 case inside the country. After that,we shut down our institution. Since then, we started thinking to shift to the digital learning process for this year diploma class. As the diploma class lasts about 10 months, we cannot stand still nor delay its related activities.

Fojo: What internal changes MJI has undertaken, and any new plan for the long-term?

KMS:As we cannot meet physically, we have changed almost everything into digitalized system such as e-signatures instead of hand signatures in especially financial sectors. Currently, we are collecting the assessment forms for our training department to diversify our programs for online coursesand face-to-face trainingsin near future.

Regarding the classes, it is inevitable to have digital transforming in our learning programs. This will also be a good practice for MJI’s long-term. We are collecting the assessment forms not only from students, but also from donors and clients for an effective long-term communication during the crisis.

For our internal communication, the online MJI-staff meeting is set for every Tuesday. All management staff and trainers join via MJI’s ZOOM account to update, reflect, and plan for the ongoing and upcoming activities.

Fojo: What are the major issue of digital transformation in your view?

KMS:Major issue is, regional students and some media houses have infrastructure problems to learn online courses. For instance, lack of equipment and technical knowledge, on top of electricity shortage and internet access in remote areas. What we can do within our capacity is, we provide the laptops and phones bills for our diploma students, so that they can participate our e-learning sessions.

Another issue is lack of technical knowledge of teaching/learning tools. Both trainers and trainees need a common ground of knowledge on applying digital learning tools/software and navigating relevant e-learning websites. Besides, to have effective online learning, our trainers have to have knowledge on handling various digital tools, as well as the trainees need to have such technical knowledge.

Fojo: Apparently, we are seeing MJI is going towards digital transforming for the journalism classes. How will MJI operate in continuation of this practice?

KMS:During this while, MJI has been continuously in planning for suitable and timely online trainings. In late March, we organized 2-day online course on “Journalism during the time of COVID-19”. We used “Zoom software” for this course.

For the immediate-term, we are getting proper technical advices from developed media institutions such as International Media Support (IMS), Fojo Media Institute (Fojo), DW Akademie, whom are already supportive working-partners with MJI since 2015. In the long-term, MJI should own and integrate the digital and technical skills as an MJI’s institutional knowledge, so that we can prepare suitable software(s) for our students living across the country. We are taking this seriously as this virus situation has been more than 3 months and nobody know when it will be over.

For this same topic, MJI’s trainers also share their views on the digital learning process and planning of course materials.

Aye Aye Zin, an MJI’s journalism trainer.

Aye Aye Zin, a trainer at MJI for more than 5 years, says, “In terms of online teaching materials and learning process, MJI’s trainers have to re-package our curriculum, lesson-plans, and assignments. So that the materials are suitable for the trainees under the given challenges.

Aye Aye explains that the original curriculum of the diploma course focuses on the multi-media reporting skills. “Our lesson-plans are practice-based, more of learning by doing, rather than delivering theories alone. In current situation, it is quite difficult to follow the original plans and practices. For the best solution, we quickly adjust our lesson-plans, shorten if necessary, and create assignments suitable for our students’ exercises in their home towns.”Yet, it remains risky to send the trainees outside for practical assignments during the crisis period.

In reality, there are some difficulties for MJI shifting its orientation towards online teaching style, as this is the very beginning for MJI itself. But, MJI’s trainers firmly believe to progress further soon. Right now, MJI priorities operating its diploma course, while other specialised courses are suspended until June 2020.

MJI starts its e-learning courses for the diploma class on 30thMarch. For 2020, MJI has 18 students, whom MJI supports necessary learning equipment assistance such as computers and phone bills for in access to internet. Trainers have to contact them via emails/messengers and support the learning materials such as video files and pdf files. Now, the students are receiving their lessons via ZOOM. The students participate in 4-hour Zoom session per day except weekends. After that, they continue for their offline working-assignments.

Naing Min Wa, an MJI’s journalism trainer during the online course with the students.

Naing Min Wai, another trainer at MJI shares his recent online training experience in response to COVID-19 crisis. The training materials for 20 online-courses are supported by DW, and IMS-Fojo. “We are now conducting series of Journalism during the time of COVID-19for the working journalists including media houses. During the recent 2-day training, there were some technical difficulties such as unstable internet connection. But, we have completed without any other major issues. Yet, we can’t say for sure how much they have absorbed from the training.”

The course includes fact-checking, safety while reporting, debunking mis and dis-information and rumours, and finding story ideas within local and regional communities that they represent.

On the other hand, Myanmar media is battling for its survival. In recent months, a few renowned media companies have been suspended their staff for both economic and health reasons. While, some suspends their daily and weekly circulations, instead to publish only on their websites.

With the confirmed 162 COVID-19 cases as of 7thMay, Myanmar doesn’t seem to be ready in relaxing its travel ban and curfew up to May 15th.

Report by Nai Nai and Yu Lwin Soe