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Burma's declining basic education

Jul 10, 2008 (DVB), Former Rangoon University lecturer Daw Nyein Khet Khet has criticised the two-tier education system in Burma for denying children from poor families an adequate basic education.

Among the schools in Rangoon under the administration of the military regime's Ministry of Education, many that are attended by the children of government officials or those from rich families demand sizeable fees and contributions from parents.

The schools in which the children of the elite study and those attended by the majority of ordinary students differ significantly in terms of teaching, collecting money, quality of teaching, exam results and the percentage of students who obtain distinctions in their exams.

DVB interviewed Daw Nyein Khet Khet, a former lecturer from Rangoon University's Burmese Department, to find out about the declining state of Burma's basic education.

DVB: Why are there differences between schools in terms of exam pass rates and so on?

NKK: Teachers in Dagon (1) and Latha (2) schools pay close attention to the students they are teaching. They also teach those students outside classrooms in return for high tuition fees. As a result, the percentage of children from those schools who pass their exams has grown.

Because of the high exam pass rate, those schools became popular and later, the number of students who wanted to study in those schools increased. Competition for school admission also came about. Paying more money and making donations became standard in order for children to attend those schools.

In Burma, particularly in schools at ward level in Rangoon, people have to at least make a donation to be able to send their children to schools. I would say such practice is a bad practice.

As you know our country faces economic hardship, there are parents who cannot even afford a small amount of money for their children's education. As a consequence, children cannot attend schools and many have to drop out.

I don't think investing a lot of money to be able to select 'good' schools for primary education is a good indication to basic education. If teachers in those schools have better teaching skills, it is only because of the mismanagement of the government.

Every school must have qualified teachers who have the same teaching skills. And the government has the responsibility to train them to be qualified.

DVB: What do you think is the root cause of these differences?

NKK: I think the main reason lies in the very low rate of pay for teachers. Because of that teachers have to take on teaching outside the classrooms , private tuition , to make ends meet.

To earn high tuition fees, teachers try to pay close attention to their students. And so rich parents who want better attention for their children send their kids to schools where those teachers are available by spending more money.

As for teachers who want to make more money, they prefer teaching in those schools and they seem to take effective care of the children's education only when they are in those schools. These issues are all interrelated.

On 7 July 1962, university students called for national education. Basically, they called for teaching on democracy, asking the government to develop an international-standard curriculum that includes political knowledge students should be aware of. I would say they called for freedom of education.

If we had freedom of education in our country, we wouldn't need to worry about the crisis we are currently facing in Burma's basic education system. Teachers' salaries and school expenses for our children would also no longer be a concern.

Despite changes in the basic education curriculum to bring it up to international standards, the military regime still doesn't consider the rights of those who work in education and those of the students. It shows that there is no freedom of education in our country.

Reporting by Moe Aye


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