Education International
Education International

Myanmar: EI leads exploratory mission

published 17 July 2014 updated 25 July 2014

EI’s Asia-Pacific Regional Office (EIAP) led a very successful fact-finding mission to Myanmar recently. The EIAP team were in Yangon from 30 June-2 July to check available data and get basic field information, and to assess and proceed to a critical analysis of the country’s current situation, specifically concerning the education sector and teachers.

The exploratory mission was motivated by the March decision of the EIAP Regional Committee to review EI’s strategic engagement in Myanmar and develop a new cooperation framework. The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), UNESCO, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), the Federation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (FTUM), and the Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF) were also involved in this mission.

At the outset, the EIAP mission aimed to:

  • Gather information from the ground and existing partners in Myanmar
  • Validate existing information
  • Strengthen cooperation with current and potential partners
  • Develop recommendations for future actions/engagement in Myanmar

Political and Trade Union Developments

“It is evident that the Government is seriously pursuing political democratisation and opening its economic doors to other countries, investors, and development partners,” said EI Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator Rey Dolot. “However, we should not be misguided by these developments, because Myanmar is indeed still governed by the military. Therefore, slow, cautious and steady engagement must be the norm.”

However, he said it was unfortunate that Myanmar’s trade union movement is divided whilst still in its infancy. EI must find a political balance between FTUM and MTUF, with whom it will be closely working.

On a pilot basis, Dolot said, it is wise to support the FTUM offer to assign a dedicated organiser for basic education teachers, who will need only specific training in organising the education sector, as they have already undergone basic organisers’ training. On the other hand, EI should also provide some assistance to the group to which MTUF belongs and which has a track record in organising university teachers.

The EI Coordinator also highlighted that there are two approaches in the engagement. In the top-down approach, authorities - the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Education, and EI – will be introduced and explained. This will eventually lead to the signing of a memorandum of understanding with them. The bottom-up approach involves starting to organise in rural areas where there is less movement of people compared to urban areas.

Immediate actions, he noted, should be: the mapping of identified pilot areas, especially for the specific needs of the teachers on the ground; the training of organisers for education in cooperation with FTUM and MTUF; hiring a local administrative/project assistant; organising professional training on Saturdays and/or Sundays; and establishing a supporting consortium.

“The trade union movement is thriving in spite of the small democratic space they can operate in. This positive development is evident in agriculture, manufacturing, construction and transport, among others,” Dolot said. “However, the education sector (especially at university level) has only managed to organise and register 11 basic level organisations, two more universities being in the process of registration.”

Status of education and teachers

In Myanmar, the national compulsory schooling is for five years, far below the international standard. The one year pre-service training for basic education teachers is also not delivering quality education. Public expenditure on education is extremely low at 1.2 per cent of the national budget. There are around 117,691 primary teachers, 106,515 secondary teachers, and 5,730 higher education teachers.

ent-teacher ratio is 46:1 in primary schools. The female enrolment rate is a low 30 per cent at secondary education level, and only seven per cent in higher education, Dolot said.

He also highlighted that the average salary of a basic education teacher is US$100-120 a month and US$150 a month for an assistant professor. Teachers have to teach in another school or have two other odd jobs to make ends meet, he said. The retirement age is 60 years old and a university professor, for example, receives and average pension of US$70 per month.