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Education high in Myanmar Agenda

Myanmar has on-going armed conflicts but it does not stop the country from developing a national level education strategic plan. The NLD government published the National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) in 2016 but observers say there is little progress so far and it is generally agreed that Myanmar’s education standards are still very low. NESP recognizes that Myanmar needs to undergo a major transformation if it is to meet the life-long-learning and career aspirations of students, youth and adults. In the past decades if not centuries, monastic education was the most accessible education system for ordinary children, where they would learn Burmese and basic arithmetic skills. Those schools gradually gave way to public schools, but many students continue to receive some form of education through monasteries. Nowadays, Myanmar has a mixed education system. According to the Ministry of Education, there are nearly 160 universities, degree colleges and colleges, 47, 365 basic education schools in Myanmar with approximately 9.26 million students in Myanmar. The total enrollment under the ministry of education was recoded as 17,606,223 students as of the information last updated in May, 2019. Following table is the clearer sight for the numbers:

Level of Education Number of students
Primary schools 4,766,806
Secondary schools 6,194,851
Post-secondary 4,831,624

Typically, Myanmar children start pre-school (pre-kindergarten) at around 4-5 years old but many kids go to day-care centers a few years before joining pre-school. In Myanmar education system, elementary school is consisted of Kindergarten, Standard 1, 2, 3 and 4 for children of 5 to 10 years of age. Then, middle school (Standard 5,6,7 and 8) is for 10 to 14 years old, and high school (Standard 9 and 10) is for 14 to 16 years old teenagers. University age varies depending on many factors but normally, it is for 16 to 22-year-old students depending on the length of the degree that they pursue.

Private schools also exist in addition to the state-schools. As many believe state-schools are not sufficiently resourced, sending children to private schools has become a popular method of education, especially for the pre-university level (high school) qualification. Privately-run high schools are popular in many parts of Myanmar with some of them claim to achieve almost 100% success rates in pre-university entrance examinations. Private schools cover pre-school, middle school and also high school. Some private schools even have their own entrance examination to ensure that they are getting the right kind of students, which in turn help with their overall success rates.

Those who can afford can also go to international schools. According to the International Schools Database website, there are around 20 international schools currently available in Yangon, Myanmar, some of which include International School Yangon, the Yangon International School, Dulwich College Yangon and Brainworks Total International School Yangon. Many offer classes for students from as young as 2 year olds or 4 to 18 years old children. According to public information available, most of the international schools follow the curriculum from or the models of the schools from U.S. and UK. Unlike the government schools, the tuition fees for private international schools may be beyond the means of average household with average income. It is not unheard of some of the international schools charging more than US$25,000 for a student over an academic year.

However, as Myanmar opens up more and more in terms of economic and business opportunities, the number of expats living in the country has increased. Many expats come to Myanmar with their family and children, and access to and quality of international education is often a major factor in deciding which country to move. Myanmar’s international schools are definitely not cheap. The annual fees range from $11,000 (for preschool children) to upward of $25,000 (for years 12 and 13) to attend either the International School of Yangon (ISY), which has US-based accredited curriculum, or the newest and most expensive on the block, The British International School Yangon, according to the publicly stated data which suggest they are positioned to receive children from high income families.

The gaps between the government schools and international schools are more than tuition fees. In terms of facilities, when government schools focus on basic essential requirements as they have to run with very low budget, international schools aim to provide facilities that are of international standards and effective curricula although comments about the lack of qualified teachers and underachievements in certain areas have been made by a number of parents. For example, the government schools may not have sufficient funding to organize continuous sports events and extra curriculum activities but the international schools are expected to facilitate such activities. Graduates from international schools may have a brighter future given that they are holding internationally accredited qualifications.

As of January 2019, the best university known in Myanmar, The Yangon University is ranked at 8,507 amongst over 28,000 institutions all over the world.

The number does not seem so terrible given Myanmar’s overall situation but it was one of the best universities in Asia some six decades ago. As Myanmar is trying to catch up with neighboring countries, educational expectation of the parents and the students become higher and it would be fair to say that education will remain high on Myanmar families’ agenda for the next few decades.