MYANMAR’S RURAL KIDS CHALLENGE
How will the countryside’s schools get up to speed?
Education in Myanmar’s poor rural areas is severely lacking in resources, contributing to an environment where drop-out rates are more than 10 times that of urban areas. This is the stark reality for a large percentage of rural kids. Poor rural families can’t afford to keep their children in school. Although school is officially free, payments for school books, uniforms and donations for building maintenance can amount to a sizeable chunk of the parents’ average monthly salary.
Children in the countryside are at a distinct disadvantage compared with their urban counterparts. Many have to leave school early to work to help support their families. Or their families simply cannot afford to send their children to school.
Those most affected are children born in war zones and areas prone to natural disasters. In 2008 when Cyclone Nargis claimed the lives of 140,000 people and devastated the Ayeyarwady delta region, an estimated 56 percent of the total number of schools in the area were damaged. Students and teachers were also amongst the victims. Everyone in the community had a personal link to the tragedy. To cope with such a traumatic events students needed counseling and support. Many families lost their income when sea water surged inland and destroyed fertile farmland. Temporary schools were built.
Those in the most remote ethnic areas often lack any access to formal education from an early age, and they might not speak the language in which they are taught. These factors contribute to high dropout rates. There is also a lack of support for older “second chance” children who might be returning to an education after years of absence due to hardships like child labour or displacement due to civil war.
In Myanmar, about 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas yet rural schools feel distinctly lacking in essential resources and training for teachers compared to those in the city. The government spends 5.92 percent of the national budget on education, a figure which they say they hope to raise. Increasing spending alone will not bring about the necessary changes. Without a serious assessment and a programme of reform, kids in rural areas will continue to remain at a disadvantage.
Connor Macdonald Many children in rural areas have a difficult journey to school. A school childrean walk through Mayan Village, Pantanor Township, Ayerawaddy in rainy season in August.