About an hour outside of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, local children attend school in a one-story building with green walls and open-air hallways. On the dirt road leading up to the high school near Htone Gyi village in Bago district, dwellings range from huts on stilts to small stone-walled houses. Water buffalo and chickens roam in yards. When class is in session, the voices of students fill the air of the school’s small campus, repeating in sing-song the lessons of the day. If you peek through any of the open classroom doors, you’ll see children seated three or four to a desk in neat rows. Boys on one side of the room, girls on the other. All students wear matching uniforms, white shirts tucked into green, traditional long skirts called longyis. Learning here in Myanmar is still done almost exclusively by textbook, lessons delivered through memorization and recitation—but in one of these same traditional classrooms about 50 students sit at their desks, hands gripping brand new tablet computers.
Change in Myanmar
Contrast, like this one, is becoming a more common sight in Myanmar, a country which has taken huge strides toward democracy in the last five years after a half-century of tight military rule. On February 1, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party took over the majority of congressional seats thanks to a landslide win at the voting booth this fall. As the country expands freedoms and sanctions are lifted, access to technology is rapidly increasing. In 2011 just two out of 100 people in Myanmar had a mobile phone, but by 2014 that number increased to 49, according to data from the World Bank. Along with most mobile phones today comes access to the Internet.
Walking around Yangon in January, it was common to see men and women with heads bowed over the smartphones in their hands, checking Facebook while dodging street vendors selling noodle soup or construction projects to repave sidewalks or build new glass-walled condos next to crumbling colonial structures the days of British rule in the late 19th and early 20th century.