Myanmar is launching a long-term plan to improve its education system after years of neglect under its former military leaders.
The National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) aims to improve teaching and learning for all education levels, from kindergarten to universities. The plan runs through 2021.
The plan seeks to extend basic education by two years to a total of 13 years. Other changes include new curriculums, child-centered learning and interactive classrooms.
Many have praised the plan as an important start for developing a modern education system. But education experts note that there will be issues, including high costs.
Some experts have criticized the plan for failing to include educators, civic organizations and ethnic minorities in the decision-making.
The plan took more than three years to develop and has received financial assistance from international donors and education advisors.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi presented the plan in February. She said the changes will be extremely important to Myanmar’s social and economic development. And she asked everyone to think about what is needed to help the plan succeed.
Bertrand Bainvel is the Myanmar representative for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF. He said the launch was “a historic moment” for the country’s education system.
Myanmar’s education system was one of Asia’s best until the military took power in 1962. The military government sharply reduced spending. It also made rote learning the main learning style. And, it made huge cuts to higher education to avoid the possibility of student political movements.
It will be costly for the Myanmar government to launch the new education plan. It will cost more than $2.1 billion a year for just 80 percent of the proposed plan. Last year, the Myanmar government spent $1.13 billion on education.
Mael Raynaud is an expert from the Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation. He said finding the financial support and professionals needed to start the plan will be a long-term challenge.
Raynaud explained that it took 20 years for Indonesia, for example, to provide money for education comparable to East Asian and Western countries. Myanmar will also need time to train teachers, professors, and educational employees, he said.
Many educators not included
Raynaud said another major issue will be inclusion.
In Myanmar, many Buddhist schools and civil and ethnic organizations offer education to poor students and children in rural ethnic areas. And rebel groups, like the Kachin, Karen and Mon, teach their own languages and culture in areas under their control.
Thein Lwin is a former member of the democratic government and an education expert with the National Network for Education Reform (NNER).
According to Lwin, the government provides very few ethnic language teaching programs and curriculums.
“The difficulties are that ethnic languages are taught only in evening class, not in the school hours; Myanmar reader texts are translated into ethnic languages for teaching; and [there is a] lack of teachers for ethnic languages,” he wrote.
Lwin said teaching ethnic languages greatly reduces the problem of students dropping out – a big problem in Myanmar’s ethnic regions.
Kim Jolliffe is a political researcher who studied laws on social services for ethnic groups.
Jolliffe said the new education plan’s “clear strengths” are its move to child-centered learning and learning that centers on results. He said this could help all civic and ethnic education programs.