‘Mudras Calling’ actor Zenn Kyi wants to end Myanmar’s ‘copying’ culture


Actor Zenn Kyi has recently become the darling of the Myanmar film world with his breakout role in Mudras Calling. His newfound fame brings with it obsessive fans who are hungry to find out all they can about the movie star. One interesting fact that has been uncovered is that Zenn Kyi is a thoughtful writer who has strong opinions about the education system in Myanmar and the phenomenon of what he calls “copying work.”

In a Facebook post from late 2016 that has gone viral in recent weeks, the actor describes his contempt for Myanmar people’s penchant for copying the work of others rather than creating their own.

He writes: “In Burma, working a job that consists of copying (stealing) is not deemed as shameful yet. They are also not yet able to see that it is shameful…Because the majority do not know that stealing work is a serious crime, they are not ashamed. I believe that it is a minority of people who brazenly, obviously, shamelessly, and without dignity copy out of great greed.”

Zenn Kyi’s essay goes on to identify Myanmar’s education system as the main culprit for imbuing Myanmar people with this mindset. He draws from his experiences attending high school and university in the United States, saying: “If a student were to present an essay with one paragraph copied from one book, another from another book, and another from the internet, the teachers would know. In that case, the essay would receive an F (zero). They would be called in to meet with the teacher in person, lectured about why this is a bad thing, and it would be recorded in a record that they did this. If it happened again, the news would reach the principal. From the principal, it would be relayed to the parents. If it happened a third time, they would be expelled from the school.

“That’s why most students don’t dare to do it. They write as much as they know, as much as they remember, and turn it in. This is the only way teachers can correctly and carefully determine what level the students are at! Like how this system teaches students that plagiarism equals shame, it also gets students in the habit of turning their projects in on time. Sometimes, two or three subjects will coincide to pile on multiple projects and assignments at the same time. When that happens, time management becomes very important, and students simultaneously learn that they need to respect their time.”

Zenn Kyi contrasts this with the Myanmar system, where “if a teacher assigns an essay, you will only get full marks if you can write exactly what the teacher teaches. If something is a bit off, your score will be lowered to that degree. It’s standard to believe that a student is bright only if they can produce a word-for-word copy of what is taught.

“I never had to write an essay before, so I never had any understanding (knowledge + experience + appreciation) of how difficult it is, how much time it takes, and how much preparation it takes to do so. In addition to that, I never really retained knowledge. So, I see it as a system that chops at the tree trunk of students so that they can’t develop their own opinions or the ability to weigh conflicting information.”

Zenn Kyi ends his essay by calling for educational reform that he believes will help change the culture of copying in Myanmar.

Many netizens praised the actor for his outspokenness:

Some added their own criticisms of the Ministry of Education:

Present this to parliament.

Others made the point that while rote memorization is not good in learning school subjects, it is an important part of Buddhist education:

The Ministry of Education is full of high-ranking people who will only do things their way and teach that mindset to their underlings.

Others made the point that while rote memorization is not good in learning school subjects, it is an important part of Buddhist education:

You are very correct. There’s nothing more to be said about government-run schools. There is one thing though: In monastic schools, students from all over the world come to learn about Buddhism through copying and memorization.

And some pointed out that students have no choice but to internalize this system:

We can’t just blame students for this. We also have to talk about this system that is set up so that only those who memorize things by heart can pass.

Clearly, this is a complex topic with many nuances to consider, and Zenn Kyi’s fame is helping facilitate what hopefully becomes an ongoing conversation in Myanmar.

And it’s probably not the last cultural critique we’ll hear from Zenn Kyi. In a recent interview, he criticized the Myanmar film industry for prioritizing quantity over quality, saying: “It’s like films are being made in the vending machine for fast profitability.”

Keep it coming, Zenn Gyi.


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