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Improving Education In Myanmar As a Sustainable Development Goal

Education and the policies that ensure its reach, can transform lives and contribute substantially towards building society’s human capital. Education is one the top priorities for every country and governments ensure that they formulate educational policies which can penetrate every remote corner within their boundaries and reach the masses, in order to improve their earning potential, enhance their chances of a better life, make informed decisions and choices that are not in the least impacted by ignorance.

Myanmar as a country rich and blessed with abundant natural resources, besides a large young population (67 % of the working population falls in the 15–64 years’ age group), it is only fair that human resources are developed and enriched to help the country progress further. A modern, overhauled education system incorporating international best practices in the realm of education and learning has become a priority for the 100-day old government that is increasing budgetary allocations and making the requisite structural changes. This is crucial as the country finds a severe dearth of local analysts, educationists, researchers and economists, who can provide the expertise to build institutions and formulate policies that can catapult Myanmar into the same league as other similarly endowed countries.

Why is a good education system needed in Myanmar There was a time, over six decades ago, when Myanmar was the seat of the best education in India, a towering literacy rate comparable to the best in Asia, with top scholars linked to the once famed Rangoon University. Much water has flown under the bridge since, and the present system in outdated, cash strapped and badly in need of reform, ranking 164 out of 168 countries in terms of public expenditure on education, according to the data compiled by the UNDP Human Development Index (UNESCO 2001). The high dropout rate, lower percentage of girls pursuing secondary education, difficult access to schools that are often without electricity, lack of proper accommodation for teachers in rural areas, are some of the many issues that need to be addressed. As a result, skilled labor has to come from other countries, and foreign expertise is sought at every step to ensure economic growth and social progress.

The State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has consistently supported education reform and stressed on the need to build critical thinking skills. The current system propagates rote learning with undue emphasis on enhancing memory rather than the ability to analyze and form opinions.

For a country at the threshold of rapid development education holds the key to skill development of the working population, providing access to the latest research in science and technology, overcoming language barriers and bridge the gap between degrees and capability. Continuous and sustained investment in the youth is imperative, since the census reports reveal that 51% of the total 51.5 million people are less than 27 years old.

Education as a sustainable development goal The concept of sustainable development was coined in the Brundtland Commission Report in 1987, and it refers to “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Sustainable development then, encompasses a vast segment of societal progress that preserves rather than deplete natural resources, ensure a clean and healthy environment for the present and future generations while also improving their quality of life. Education forms part of the process of sustainable development because it can improve the quality of life of the masses in the present and the future.

The concept of sustainable development has now become the focus of the United Nations as well, and in September 2015, the UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including seventeen Sustainable Development goals (SDGs) or Global Goals. These succeed the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) that were framed in the year 2000 with poverty elimination being the primary focus. Despite all the progress and all the effort, poverty has not ended and its related problems continue to plague pockets of the globe. The role of education is now being seen as an essential component of the poverty elimination program, and the SDGs will complete the tasks started by the MDGs in the next fifteen years. The end result will not just lead to an educated, knowledge-equipped workforce, but also pave the way for rapid economic progress.