Assistant Professor Hollie Hix-Small has been named a Fulbright Scholar to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. She will reside in the Southeast Asian country for four months, from June to September 2019, and will work to support implementation of their 2017–2020 National Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Intervention. Hix-Small, who has expertise in early childhood intervention and is known nationally and internationally for her work, will help to develop the country’s first higher education curriculum for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services. This collaboration among the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, Relief and Resettlement and seven other ministries with support from UNICEF Myanmar and the Leprosy Mission of Myanmar has laid the groundwork for the opportunity to work with institutions of higher education on the further development of ECI.
Hix-Small will work with professors and other stakeholders in the country to co-develop coursework to support emerging professionals in the field of ECI. Rather than bringing a prescribed curriculum with her, she feels strongly that it will be important to use the perspectives and expertise of local practitioners, parents, professors, and others to jointly generate the content to customize the program to the country and the varied contexts within it. “My challenge is to understand the context and the culture and their learning needs,” said Hix-Small.
Hix-Small’s interest in the field of early childhood intervention grew exponentially while studying at the University of Cape Town and working as a caregiver in a South African orphanage in the mid-1990s. Her commitment to advocating for the most marginalized children continues today. Although she has lived and worked in many countries and visited Southeast Asia several times, this will be her first opportunity to live in the region.
Myanmar is the largest country in Southeast Asia and has a high incidence of chronic child malnutrition (35–40%) and other diseases that often result in serious developmental delays, making ECI an essential service. Sixty-five percent of Myanmar’s nearly 53 million people speak Burmese and a number of other languages and dialects, but the government and schools use English widely.
ECI programs are composed of a team of interdisciplinary professionals and sometimes paraprofessionals who work with families and early-years teachers to jointly find opportunities to support the development of young children from birth to five years of age. The work takes place in homes and communities where the children live. Hix-Small is enthusiastic about developing this project in collaboration with her Myanmar partners. She is excited to learn from and with them during her time in the country. “I am thrilled to have this opportunity to co-create the curriculum together by looking at the widely accepted principles and practices of ECI and generating ideas for the Myanmar context.”
Hix-Small is the coordinator of the PSU Early Intervention Special Education program in the GSE. She holds a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology and a master’s and a doctorate degree in early intervention, special education, from the University of Oregon. She has taught in PSU’s Special Education department since 2014. Prior to joining PSU, Hix-Small was a senior program manager with Open Society Foundations’ London-based Early Childhood Program, managing early childhood projects in Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and Peru. She is a senior fellow with the Institute for Reconstruction and International Security through Education and has published and presented prolifically on ECI issues in the US and around the world.
Since coming to PSU, Hix-Small has collaborated with colleagues in a number of countries including Georgia, Serbia, and Kuwait. She recently led GSE students on an international study tour and has hosted exchanges with international ECI practitioners at PSU.
She has a couple of primary reasons for embracing this project. First, Oregon has a significant Southeast Asian community, including more than 100 Rohingya families from Myanmar who have recently relocated to Portland. She will use this experience to help GSE special education students better understand how to approach and assess the needs of a local ethnic community and hopes her time in Myanmar may lead to an ongoing partnership.
Second, Hix-Small also hopes to contribute to the internationalization of PSU’s Early Intervention, Special Education Program, which is an online graduate program that can be accessed by anyone around the globe. “Partnering with international practitioners, students, and faculty can only strengthen our program,” she said. “Through dialogue and reflection, we are forced to take a step back and examine our assumptions and what we are doing.”