Thursday, September 21, 2017

Rebuilding the state education system


The first step in the education reform process is the Comprehensive Education Sector Review (CESR), which is being conducted jointly with international donors and NGOs.

Children study at a rural school. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)Children study at a rural school. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)

What is the status of the CESR and when will some of its main recommendations be implemented?

The review has already been completed in both lower and upper Myanmar and the results discussed with regional chief ministers, regional social welfare ministers, parents, ethnic minority community leaders, parliamentarians and civil society members. Civil society organisations have openly asked to amend some points, particularly about the expansion to a 12th year of schooling, and I will follow their requests. For example, [we’ve been asked] whether we will adopt a 5-4-3 (five years of primary school, four years of middle school, three years of high school) or a 6-3-3 system. We are still not sure which one will be adopted but not doing so has left us behind other ASEAN countries. We are the only nation in the region that hasn’t added a 12th year of schooling.

For this school year we are trialling it in the Nay Pyi Taw Council area. Depending on how the trial proceeds we will propose it to the hluttaw. If the hluttaw approves, it will be introduced for the next academic year [2014-15].

The education budget has risen about K300 billion (about US$290 million) to K900 billion in 2013-14. How will you use that additional funding?

There are many things we need to do. This year the education budget is K903 billion. We are going to build about 40,000 educational buildings. We are going to appoint new teachers – between 30,000 and 40,000 at the primary, middle and high school levels. We are going to build toilets: The current ratio is one toilet to 70 students and we will change this to one in 50. And we are going to build 53 offices for district education officers.

But I thought that in an earlier hluttaw session the ministry said there was no need to build offices for these district education officers?

Yes, that’s right. But the offices are necessary. If the district education officer does not have an office then there will be a weak link in the chain. Now the district education officer has been upgraded to deputy director level. They will even have a car.

International agencies are making contributions to support reform in the Ministry of Education. Who exactly is involved?

They are contributing a lot. AusAID has contributed US$80 million over four years for the CESR, while UNICEF and Japan International Cooperation Agency are also giving assistance. The World Bank will give assistance too: It will award scholarships to outstanding students who cannot afford education. [The World Bank] has also promised to help with education infrastructure. The Asian Development Bank will also give us assistance.

What other reforms being carried out in the ministry?

We are making a lot of changes. We have added about 4200 schools last year, enabling villages to have their own school, and also upgraded some schools. We sent about 800 scholars to other countries for further study last year. Previously primary headmasters received less than a high school headmaster but now they receive the same if they do their job properly. And we also transferred teachers back to their hometowns because it is normally more convenient if they can live together with their familyt. We are trying to carry out these changes quickly; we don’t want to have any unfinished tasks in three years’ time when the next government takes office.

When journalists try to interview staff and teachers from the education department, they say that they were ordered by their superiors [in the Ministry of Education] not to say anything. Is that true?

In my opinion, it is not correct. In such a transparent era, how can I stop them from talking to the media? I have given teachers autonomy. However, they should not talk nonsense.

When we interviewed teachers, we found that it was true. And in small towns teachers are scared of the township-level education officers.

The Ministry of Education is not trying to control anybody. I used to be a teacher. I chose this career because I wanted to do it. As you know, you need to be interested in teaching but also benevolent and willing to make sacrifices to be a good teacher. Nobody forced them to do this job. They chose it themselves. After they have made this choice, they should try to be happy with it. However, some people are not happy. Our education ministry has about 360,000 staff – the second-highest number after the Ministry of Defence.

Have there been any cases where you took disciplinary action against teachers because they did not observe the ministry’s rules?

Yes, there are. We took action against a school because it took school entrance fees even though we have asked them not to do it. This happened in Yangon this year. In the democratic era, there may be people who want to turn back and if there are then we will have to work out who they are. If we know who they are, we will warn them. If they don’t stop after receiving a warning, we will take action. Because I used to be a teacher, I don’t want to do this. But if we don’t do it, the ministry will be ruined. We will go backward instead of forward.

How then will you take action against the school officials who took entrance fees?

The headmaster will be forced to retire. We will also charge the middleman. Because we worry that headmasters will ask for contributions from parents, the government has given them petty cash ranging from K50,000 to K1 million starting from this year. It is up to the headmaster how this is spent.

People are still saying that the education ministry is not transparent. How do you respond to that?

Some people who are not aware of the real situation may say that … What is important is sincerity. In a democratic era, we are prone to criticism. We can’t do anything if we are cursed at.

Translated by Thit Lwin