About Myanmar

Myanmar is a Southeast Asian country with a rich and ancient cultural heritage. Sharing borders with India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand, Myanmar has a diverse population of approximately 50 million people, divided among at least 135 ethnic groups and speaking an estimated 107 languages and dialects. From the plains and coastal areas of the south to the mountain ranges of the north, Myanmar possesses a wealth of natural resources including fertile agricultural land, mineral and gas deposits, and forestry.

After emerging from British colonial rule in 1948, newly independent Myanmar (then Burma) struggled with armed insurgencies in many parts of the country, fuelled by ethnic and political tensions, and by the wider geopolitical and ideological conflicts playing out in the region at that time. Continued instability paved the way for a military coup in 1962. The country has been ruled by a succession of military regimes ever since.

In 1948 there was considerable cause for optimism for Myanmar’s future. The country’s health and education systems were considered to be among the best in Asia. Fertile agricultural lands enabled the country to become the world’s largest rice exporter in the 1950’s, and the country was often hailed as the ‘rice-basket of Asia’.

However, since that time, a combination of factors has led to a progressive decline into poverty. In 1989, Myanmar was designated as a ‘Least Developed Country’ by the United Nations, a status conferred on countries exhibiting the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development. The majority of the Burmese population lives in extreme poverty. GDP per capita was estimated by the UN to be US$386 in 2007, on a par with Afghanistan and Rwanda. However, the 2009 Human Development Report, published by the UNDP, reports that Burma receives only US$4 in annual foreign aid per capita, compared to US$146 in Afghanistan and US$73 in Rwanda. Burma is facing serious epidemics of HIV/AIDS, TB and other dangerous diseases. The lack of widely available and affordable health care services and health education has made it very difficult to prevent their spread.

Despite the high value placed on education in Burmese culture, the public education system has long been in decline, suffering from a critical lack of resources and skills. According to UNESCO figures, the average adult in Myanmar has received only 2.8 years of formal schooling, on a par with Haiti and Bangladesh, and only 36.5% of eligible students enroll in secondary education.

Despite the difficulty of obtaining independent, verifiable statistical information in Myanmar, the evidence available from credible sources, whether quantitative, qualitative or anecdotal, reveals a country in the grip of chronic economic, social and political crisis.

Arohana believes that providing access to quality relevant higher education offers the single most powerful tool to address the problems faced by Myanmar today, and to lead the incremental transformation of Myanmar society towards a more just, peaceful and prosperous future.