The weakness of the state-run education system

Government expenditure on education is estimated to amount to only about 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) (DFID 2008). In many rural areas, the government education system is non-existent. This includes frequent cases in which there is a school building but no teacher working in the village. Teachers are usually reluctant to go to the rural areas, particularly as they receive no adequate salaries to compensate them for this. If teachers are forcibly transferred to remote villages, they often do not stay there. As a consequence, rural schools in particular are mostly overcrowded and the student/teacher ratio is very high. Furthermore, schools are mostly poorly equipped and usually lack basic teaching materials such as benches, tables and textbooks. Moreover, schoolbooks and curricula tend to be outdated.

Teachers are mostly poorly trained and teaching methods tend to be repetitive, outdated, teacher centred and based on ex cathedra teaching. The state-run teacher-training system has been steadily deteriorating. Even the Ministry of Education (MOE 2006) itself admits that not all teachers have an academic qualification or have even ‘attended certified courses’. Apart from the problems mentioned, there is also an obvious lack of vocational skills training as well as a dearth of capacity building in fields such as management, project-oriented work and even English, which international organisations and businessmen active in Burma/Myanmar recognise instantly as soon as they try to hire local staff. What is particularly worrying in this regard is that, according to several international aid workers, the education level is usually lower the younger the applicants are, which indicates a continuing erosion of the education system.

This erosion is characterised not only by a lack of access to, and the quality of, education, but by ‘a system that suppresses critical thinking and…discourages creativity’. As a consequence, there is meanwhile, a ‘pervasive cynicism about the process of education’.[10] In many instances, people seem to have given up on the State. As a consequence, several non-profit and self-help approaches to the provision of basic education, as well as professional and life skills, have (re)-emerged. In this regard, it is interesting that during a rare civil-society workshop conducted in Burma/Myanmar, most of the participants from civil society defined their opportunities in terms of unmet community needs for services—that is, in terms of gaps.[11] The current Myanmar local NGO directory (DLN 2005), which lists only registered organisations with an office in Yangon, mentions 57 NGOs, including monastic schools and church-based and Islamic organisations that engage in education. As many civil-society initiatives in Burma/Myanmar are informal in character and operate on a local level, the real number of self-help groups in the education sector can comfortably be estimated to be much higher.

[10] Confidential communication with Alan Smith, April 2008.

[11] Ibid.