MYAN­MAR’S RU­RAL KIDS CHAL­LENGE

How will the coun­try­side’s schools get up to speed?

Mizzima Business Weekly - - AFFAIRS -

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.

Photos: Hong Sar/Mizzima

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.

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