Issues in Myanmar education

The Education Sector Study (ESS), a collaborative effort of the Ministry of Education, UNESCO and the UN Development Program (UNDP), was a watershed in the development of education in Myanmar. The ESS was begun in 1990 and Phase I—Final Report (of the diagnostic phase) was completed in 1992. In 1993, Phase II—Proposals for Education Sector Development (volumes one and two) were published. The ESS identified a number of key issues for reform and presented them in terms of broad priority areas. The eight key issues identified for development of the education sector in Myanmar are:

Although efforts have been made to address the issues identified by the ESS, they have mostly been inadequate. New methodologies and school textbooks have been introduced and tried, but rote learning is still the method preferred by teachers and students. The existing examination and assessment systems still encourage memorisation of facts, which has stifled attempts to instil analytical and creative thinking. The 11 years of primary and secondary education culminate in the matriculation examination, which is conducted on a nationwide scale. Due to attempts to control malpractice and corruption, things have improved; however, rote learning still exists, although to a lesser extent. It is detrimental to the integrity of the system when candidates still scramble to ‘buy’ sets of questions for approaching examinations.

Curriculum reform is an issue that also needs to be addressed urgently. The current curriculum is so overloaded with factual knowledge that it lends itself to rote learning. Classroom practices also do not allow for analytical, creative thinking or free discussion and expression of thought.

There has, however, been an important improvement to the school curriculum. With the support of the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the Myanmar National AIDS Program, a HIV/AIDS prevention and ‘healthy living’ curriculum has been introduced in primary and secondary schools nationwide, helping millions of children gain knowledge and develop skills that can help them stay healthy. As a result, thousands of lives that would otherwise have been lost will be saved.

Education in Myanmar still faces issues identified by the ESS and only massive investment by the government and international organisations will enable the education sector to contribute positively towards national development.