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The life of a teacher in the rural areas of Burma is very different to their counterparts in the city — they earn lower wages, face transportation problems, and many must work in the fields before and after classes.
As over 70 percent of Burma’s population lives in rural areas, many people feel more should be done to improve the quality of education in these rural parts.
In the morning, before school, Saw Htoo Shee goes out into the paddy fields to work. When he returns home after a day of teaching, he doesn’t mark tests or devise lesson plans — he goes back out into fields.
Saw Htoo Shee is in his 40s and is head teacher of the local primary school in Tanyin Kone Village, Irrawaddy Division. He has spent 18 years building his teaching career. However he has had to work two jobs to earn enough money for his family.
“I have four elder sisters. My father is 86 and mother is 84. To support their health, I have to work in paddy fields,” he said.
Burma’s school system is in urgent need of reform — the government spends just 5.8 percent of the national budget on education and schools in rural areas are significantly worse off compared to schools in the cities.
For teachers in rural areas, there is insufficient training for them to improve and it is difficult for them to get promoted.
Primary school teacher Htew Htew was told during teacher training that she would be eligible for a higher position after three years of work.
“I aim to become a headmistress of a high school. It has been six years so far, and I have not yet been promoted,” she said.
The opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has an educational reform network in place.
Thein Lwin sits on the NLD Educational Committee and is a member of the National Network for Educational Reform, said teachers’ salaries in rural areas need to be increased.
“I can understand the difficulties that teachers working in rural areas face,” he said. “As the education budget is low, they don’t get enough salary.”
In rural Burma, the lack of transportation and adequate roads makes access to many villages difficult. Teachers and students often have long and arduous journeys to get to school everyday.
“It is different from the schools in urban areas. We have to travel by land and by boat. It is more difficult here,” said teacher Myint Shwe.
The lack of transport means teachers cannot travel to the cities for training. Saw Htoo Shee said after 18 years in the job he was eligible to apply for a postgraduate degree in education, but he couldn’t attend the training.
“We are too old to learn now. We wanted to become high school teachers. But it is even difficult to travel for one or two weeks to the city. There are economic constraints as well,” he said.
However Thein Lwin said teacher training was important and those in power need to make this more of a priority.
“A teacher needs continuous learning and needs to attend training. The teachers in rural areas don’t have these opportunities,” he said. “When reforming the education sector, there should be arrangements for these teachers to have opportunities to learn more, to get master degrees.”
The Deputy Minister for Information, Ye Htut, says the government is spending more money on education than they have in previous years. In January President Thein Sein said the education budget would increase to 5.92 percent.
But even with an increased budget, education leaders warn that if the money isn’t used effectively, the school system, especially in rural areas will not improve.