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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum

Focus in on this Photo: Classroom in Sittwe, Myanmar, 2015

#10009 The focus of this photograph is a group of young children sitting tightly together on the floor in a dimly lit room reading from heavily worn books. The walls of the room are made of a woven material and sticks. There is a woven mat on the floor. In the background there are clothes hanging and additional floor mats. An older person appears to be directing the children.


Date: 2015
Location: Sittwe, Myanmar
Photographer: Lynsey Addario
Source: Image from the Annenberg Space for Photography’s REFUGEE Exhibition


A volunteer teacher tutors Rohingya children in a makeshift classroom in the Thae Chaung IDP camp.


Nine people sit on the ground with open books and folders. In the foreground, two children appear to share a text. Most of group sits across from one another, while two children sit behind. They appear to be indoors, and they sit near an open door, which lights the pages of their books. The children are young, looking to be between approximately 7 to 10 years old. Near the door sits an older person, likely the teacher.


The books and materials look old and tattered, and the children do not have pencils or notebooks.


The scene is dark, but the colorful clothing and accessories worn by the figures introduces variation in the composition.


Although the children are studying in this room, it also appears the room is a living space. The edge of a clothesline is visible above the door. On the right, at the back of room, is a stack of cushions and blankets.


On the right side of the picture, mostly in shadow, a young boy smiles at the person taking the photograph.

Build on Your Observations

Though they sit in an organized manner, the lack of lighting and the conditions of the room suggest this is not a traditional classroom.


By photographing the scene from above, the photographer illustrates both the class and their surroundings.


The row of people and the placement of the books introduces rhythm into the photograph and a sense of organization, even within an improvised setting. The children and their teacher are serious about learning. This tone is further conveyed by the bowed heads and facial expressions of the children.

Make Inferences

The caption indicates that these children are Rohingya. Wikipedia indicates that “the Rohingya people are Muslim Indo-Aryan peoples from the Rakhine State, Myanmar.” They are minorities in Myanmar and lack legal protection from the government. They are denied citizenship and face severe restrictions on marriage, employment, health care, education, and — now — daily movement. They also face intimidation and violence. According to the UNHCR, violence between Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities has been especially heavy since 2012. Observers have reported the massacre of thousands of Rohingya. In 2014, the United States House of Representatives passed House Resolution 418, urging the Burmese government to end the persecution of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.


The caption indicates that the children are internally displaced and live in a refugee camp. From the conditions depicted in the photograph and the fact that the tutor is a volunteer, it appears the camp lacks adequate infrastructure and resources to address the needs of its inhabitants.

Formulate Further Questions

Given the apparently desperate circumstances, why is an education important for children who are displaced? What are these children studying?

What have been the barriers to aid efforts to help the Rohingya?

What do you think the photographer seeks to communicate through this picture?

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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum


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  • ISBN: 1-57680-905-6