Revitalising Myanmar’s education system

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The education system in Myanmar is set for a major overhaul with the introduction of the National Education Sector Plan (NESP), which aims to meet the needs of a rapidly changing economy.

The NESP – Myanmar’s new blueprint for its educational system ­– is set to introduce modernised learning methods prioritising problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

Foreign direct investment in international schools and vocational training programmes are also boosting the country’s education system and addressing Myanmar’s skills gap.

Educational blueprint

Under the NESP, which is being developed by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and has yet to be finalised, Myanmar’s entire educational system will see a complete overhaul over a five-year period, with the rollout of a modernised education cycle to be fully implemented by 2030.

As part of this process, a new 13-year education curriculum, which will add two years to the basic educational term, will be launched at the beginning of the 2017/18 academic year starting at the first-grade level.

Along with reforming the overarching structure, the plan will see teachers trained in contemporary methods, with students taught to deploy critical analysis in their studies instead of the rote learning system currently in use.

“This plan is quite an incredible transformation, if it is implemented,” Lynne Heslop, education director at the British Council, one of MoE’s partners, told local media. “Usually in countries that make changes to their reforms, they do it bit by bit…But here, Myanmar is transforming the whole system over the next five years,” she said.

With the NESP still in the planning stage, a budget for the far-reaching reform programme has yet to be determined, with NESP relying on financial support from organisations such as UNICEF, the British Council and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, according to local media.

As part of its push for educational reform, the newly installed National League for Democracy (NLD) government is conducting a comprehensive review of state allocations under the 2016/17 budget, which it inherited from the previous government.

One area for which the NLD is looking to increase short-term spending is education, a sector that has already seen a rise in allotment in recent years under the U Thein Sein administration.

State spending on education has increased from 0.7% of GDP in fiscal year (FY) 2011/12 to 2.1% in FY 2013/14, still below the 3.6% ASEAN average.

However, more recently, education allocations as a share of total government spending have increased marginally from 6.78% in FY 2015/16 to 7% in FY 2016/17, with MMK1.5trn ($1.3bn) dedicated to the sector.

Even with a budget in place, retraining teachers, implementing new teaching methods and upgrading and expanding facilities to accommodate smaller class sizes will take considerable time, according to Deepak Neopane, founder of City College Yangon.

“Myanmar’s education system was once the best in the region, but now is far behind regional norms,” he told OBG. “Pupils lack analytical-thinking and problem-solving skills and are now struggling to capitalise on the country’s growth.”

Investment in education

Increased investment in education, to be followed by greater outlays under the NESP, will create opportunities for stakeholders along the educational services chain.

The extensive overhaul of the system will likely see long-term investments in the construction of new facilities and other infrastructure while new curriculum and methodologies will require investments in teacher training programmes and classroom aids, such as updated textbooks and technological equipment.

Opportunities for international schools in the Myanmar market, particularly in the financial capital of Yangon, are also expected to rise as the education system is broadened and demand for internationally accredited courses increases.

International schools such as Myanmar Imperial College and Chindwin College are already popular among the expatriate community and local affluent families.

Myanmar has also seen a proliferation of private schools since 2012 when the government allowed private institutions to reopen. Reasonably priced in comparison to international schools, private schools are becoming an attractive option for the country’s growing middle class.

Spending on private education is likely to remain strong in coming years, according to Daw Poht Poht Kyi, managing director of Myanmar Imperial College.

“There is a growing awareness among citizens about the importance of investing in education,” she told OBG. “Students now have more career opportunities and avenues for growth in comparison to previous years.”

Vocational training on the rise

Myanmar’s vocational and technical training segment is also set to provide opportunities to educational firms able to close the country’s immediate skills gap.

Though Myanmar has a fast-growing economy with a large workforce, the country’s acute skills shortage is the second-most-severe barrier to progress, according to a UK government report on investment opportunities in Myanmar’s skills sector.

Bridging the skills gap provides business opportunities for international firms able to address these concerns in the short term.

Among the areas the UK report said would see the highest demand for training and education were the infrastructure and energy industries, manufacturing, tourism, the financial sector, ICT and entrepreneurialism.

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