Education in Myanmar

Despite the high value placed on education in Myanmar culture, the state education system has long been in decline, suffering from a critical lack of resources and skills.

Education, particularly higher education, is often perceived as a potential threat by the authorities who exercise strict control over education institutions. Investment in this sector is accorded a low priority by the government. Teachers in state education institutions commonly earn around US$20-30 per month, leading to a lack of motivation, difficulties in recruiting quality teaching staff, and encouraging teachers to prioritize paid private tuition over their school jobs.

Due to the lack of investment, schools often charge students a range of unofficial fees. Many families, particularly those in poorer rural areas, cannot afford to pay these fees and so are forced to withdraw their children from education. According to UNESCO figures, the average adult in Burma has received only 2.8 years of schooling, and only 36.5% of eligible students enroll in secondary education.

Throughout the education system, there is prevailing culture of rote-learning which discourages the development of analytical thinking. Students are considered as vessels to be filled with pre-ordained ‘knowledge’ which they must learn by heart. There is little or no emphasis on understanding the information being committed to memory, or being able to practically apply it.

Most curricula and learning materials in the Myanmar state education system are desperately out of date and have little practical application to the current context. Graduates lack the necessary practical and analytical skills to tackle Myanmar’s immediate humanitarian crisis, and the chronic political, social and economic woes that have blighted the country for two generations.

Corruption is common throughout the state education system; good exam results can be acquired with money and influence. Consequently, state-accredited education has lost much of its credibility in society.

Universities are kept on a particularly tight leash. Campuses in Rangoon and Mandalay were forced to relocate to isolated locations far from city centers due to security concerns. Campuses are under close surveillance and universities have been forced to close for periods of up to four years. The Myanmar government has discouraged large concentrations of students on campuses, and the development of student networks, by making it illegal for students of one university to enter the campus of another. The government has also prioritized the expansion of distance education programs, where students spend only a few days a year on campus. Although there are a small number of universities that offer courses considered to be of some quality, most tertiary education in Myanmar is viewed simply as a rubber stamp rather than a preparation for effective participation in society.

In the absence of widely available, good quality university education in Myanmar, Arohana’s mission is to provide opportunities for selected individuals, well-placed to make a positive impact in society, to access quality university education in the Asian region. On returning to Myanmar, these individuals can play key roles building the capacity of communities and the wider society, and fostering reconciliation, sustainable development and social justice.