Educators Translate Popular Video Tutorials Into Burmese Language

By Emily Malinowski 14 January 2014

RANGOON — A popular website that offers educational video tutorials to millions of students around the world is coming to Burma.

Educators in the Southeast Asian nation are now producing Burmese-language translations of the videos from Khan Academy, a nonprofit website created in 2006 by a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School in the United States.

The website—which has produced more than 4,000 short instructional videos that cover subjects ranging from finance to mathematics, health care and biology—has gained particular recognition at US universities but is also expanding internationally, with the goal of providing a “free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” Over the past eight years, the videos, which are also available on a YouTube channel, have been translated into more than 30 languages. They have been accessed free of charge by about 60 million users worldwide.

Khan Academy recently appointed Nyunt Than, leader of the California-based Burmese American Democratic Alliance, as an advocate to help spread the videos to more students in Burma, as the country attempts to overhaul its long-neglected education system during the transition from decades of military rule.

“Our country and children need help receiving a world-class education. This platform will change how people are educated in the future,” says Nyunt Than, who last year founded the Khan Academy Burmese Translation Project (KABT), an initiative with over 100 team members in Burma, the United States and a few other countries.

On Sunday Nyunt Than discussed the project in Burma’s commercial capital with representatives from various public and private Burmese institutions, including educators from the Rangoon Institute of Marine Technology and the University of Computer Studies, Rangoon, during a luncheon event. He said he hoped the interactive videos, which can be viewed unlimited times by a single user, would allow students to learn at their own pace.

One initial challenge, however, was Internet connectivity. Although Burma is taking steps to improve its networks, the country’s Internet penetration rate is estimated to be as low as 1 percent, making it difficult for the average student to load a video on YouTube. To solve this problem, Khan Academy has developed a small offline server system that allows students to view the content without a connection.

Translation problems are also a major concern.

“We are an independent community of volunteers who are translating videos,” Nyunt Than said. “Many of us have no experience. So we use literal translation, which leads to content that does not make sense in Burmese. A Burmese teacher would never say, ‘I hope I didn’t confuse you,’ because the phrase in Burmese is too long. We need a review process to spot and correct these literal translations.”

So far, KABT has translated 100 videos into Burmese, and more than 50 videos have been reviewed and released. The organization is currently searching for more translators, reviewers, typing volunteers, advocates, sponsors and donors.

“Anyone who wants to contribute can contribute,” Nyunt Than said.

Students also attended the luncheon on Sunday to learn more about KABT. Among them was Khine Mya Shwe Yee, a young English student from Kamase, a small village in Pegu Division where Nyunt Than also grew up.

“I think this system could be very helpful,” she told The Irrawaddy in broken English. “I believe it is a good idea.”