Sep 10, 2008 (DVB), Despite the ruling State Peace and Development Council's claims that Burma has a 94 percent literacy rate, Burmese educationalists say the reality on the ground is very different.
Dr Thein Lwin, who works on education issues with migrant workers and their children in Thailand, said some children had not had any access to education.
"In my experience, there are many people, particularly from Shan State, Karen state and some from central Burma, who have never attended school," he said.
"They are in their teens now and they are attending our school; the rate of illiteracy is frighteningly high."
The SPDC brought in free education last year and said decreed that all children should have access to education, but there are regular reports of parents being asked for fees and additional contributions.
A high school teacher in Rangoon said there are notices up on school walls to say that children do not have to pay to attend school, but donations are still being demanded from parents on various pretexts.
"Parents have to contribute as much as they can to the upkeep of the schools," the teacher said.
"The state doesn't provide anything , it is not easy to maintain a school."
Dr Thein Lwin agreed that these costs put schooling out of reach for many parents.
"Although the schools are free, in reality, parents still have to pay for school maintenance, donations and registration fees," Dr Thein Lwin.
"Parents can't afford it because they also have to pay for books."
Thein Lwin praised the around 4000 traditional monastery schools which provide free education to children throughout Burma.
"Thanks to the support of these monasteries to the communities, many children are educated," he said.
Another teacher from Kunchangone township near Rangoon said that even in her area many children could not go to school at all and only around 5 percent received free education.
International Literacy Day is marked around the world annually on 8 September to highlight the importance of literacy and draw attention to the millions of people around the world who lack basic literacy skills.
This year's event focused on the vital role of literacy in addressing public health issues.
Reporting by Yee May Aung