“ I always have to walk to school for nearly 1 hour. I’m afraid that sometimes rain and mud has made me sick and late to school.” Mhan Ei Nwan, Grade 4
“My village is too far from the school in Tee Tane, over 5 miles but distance doesn't really matter to me but seldom, I have some accident as I am too playful.” Htan Kyint Lyant, Grade 8
“ I plan on going to university while helping my family and in the future I want to become a teacher in my village.” Soe Myint, Grade 9
For these rural kids of Myanmar, transportation has always been one of the issues in access to education. This often leads to becoming out of school children ( OOSC ). After dropping out of school, the chances are very slim that they will get back to school but rather work with their family or work in a city. The above quotes are from real-life stories that should reveal many of the children from rural regions in the country.
This case is even tougher when brought to the border cases.
“There is no school in our village and the road to school is not accessible. Nobody in our village has even passed the fourth grade.” acclaimed by a Shan youth in a focus group discussion from Northern Shan State near the China border.
Out of school children’s profile analysis shows that at primary school age 36.8 percent of children are engaged with child labor, while at lower secondary school age, the labor engagement is 94.5 percent. This is an issue in Myanmar which ranked in the top 10 out of 197 countries in a 2014 child labor index that evaluated child labor risk.
“My mother is the only person earning money for my education. Last month when I was sick my mother had to borrow money from her friends to buy rice and try to find a way to return these debts. I feel so bad for all of the responsibilities my mother has. I would like to go to work to help her,” a seven-year-old Shan boy from Shan State living along the Thai border acclaimed.
According to the Myanmar report on out-of-school children 2018 by UNICEF and MOE ( Ministry of Education ), there were 330 townships and 70,838 villages in Myanmar with 1 primary school to every 2 villages. For school catchment areas in Myanmar, there is one school for every two square miles in hilly regions and one school for every three square miles in lowland regions. 67.7 percent of children attend schools that are situated in the same ward/village where they live, while only 0.1 percent study “out of the country”. The remainder, 32.2 percent, attend nearby schools that are located outside their village/ward which means walking 30 minutes to 1 hour or even more. By these data, it is clear that distance is still a challenge for many children in Myanmar.
On the other hand, there is always a saving grace. Many NGO bodies and organizations are focusing on different solutions to tackle these issues. The following three organizations are doing great work to the problem.
Lesswalk was founded by Mike Than Tun who is also the founder of the Myanmar technology company BOD Tech Venture. Lesswalk purchases both brand new and used bicycles globally at low price and import into Myanmar for the students. They work with the Ministry of Education to donate the bikes to Myanmar students for free.
They target the student age group 13-18 who walk more than 1-3 hours to school. They believe that by Less Walk, the students have more time to study, be on time to school, and have more time to help their family work eliminating the need to drop out of school.
They have reached over 8 states including the furthest region Kachin state and Tanintharyi region. They have donated over 8,000 bicycles and they plan to reach 100,000 in 2 years.
Rural Indigenous Sustainable Education (RISE)
Rural Indigenous Sustainable Education (RISE) is a local NGO that represents indigenous peoples across Myanmar. RISE promotes the education of Indigenous Peoples and children in Myanmar in the form of access to a culturally appropriate, quality education. RISE plans and carries out the implementation by the delivery of a region’s own mother language as RISE was established by a collective of Indigenous education focused organizations supporting their own communities in remote, often conflict-affected areas and in unity. Their activities are pre-service, in-service and mobile teacher training, parental awareness, school management capacity building, providing of learning materials, facilitating education awareness-raising events and Teacher Expansion Education Services ( TEES ).
(TEES) The Teachers Expanding Education Services initiative is a program that recruits, trains and deploys local community teachers to establish schools in villages that have no primary school services, working together with the local leaders. This program design is to teach the indigenous children in their language with curriculum familiarized to their local culture. The program has supported 12,534 out of school children to return to school and has improved retention rates from 60% to 82%.
TEES tackles the problem of underserved communities where there are no schools or where schools have closed due to a lack of resources and/or conflict or where government teachers do not wish to be placed due to remoteness and isolation. Plus the local education approach, TEES introduced Burmese language ( Myanmar National language ) as a subject in higher years.
RISE currently supports over 2000 schools, 12,000 teachers, 300,000 students and 50000 parents.
“Every child deserves the right to education, quality education specifically one that is already familiar to his or her indigenous culture, language and local knowledge so that they don’t feel too different from the curriculum but rather like home” said Crystal White, the Program manager at RISE.
myME ( Myanmar Mobile Education )
myME ( Myanmar Mobile Education ) is a project that brings classroom ( non- formal education ) to out-of-school children by the use of vehicles and other mobile teaching means mainly in tea shops. myME project consists of programs that provide the children non-formal education, vocational education and skills useful for daily life. Their main target is children in cities who have dropped out of school and have been compelled into servitude. With this, myME has found a solution for a very common case in developing countries, which is parents having to send children to work undesirably, being disconnected from any form of education.
myME curriculum includes non-formal education, vocational training and life skills plus the use of digital tools. Their focus is not the formal education but the kind of education that the out of school children could apply back in their daily life.
myME initiated the project with 60 kids in 2 tea shops in 2014. By 2018, they expanded to many underprivileged communities with over 60 staff and 5 mobile classroom buses (Yangon,Mandalay, Mawlamyine, Myingyan, Kyauk-Se, Dala, East Dagon, and Hlaing Thar Yar townships) altogether having an impact on 10,000 working children.
When the myME buses are not being used, they also have scheduled dates that invite children on the street to the buses for a full day educational activities. And during this COVID 19 crisis, myME is running Home based learning in which they bring the classroom directly to an individual’s home. Of course, safety measures and protection about the virus is taken priority in implementation. The curriculum also includes giving awareness on the pandemic.
In addition to that, myME is also taking part in the donation of food and also in promoting the digital platform of Myanmar education joining the fight against COVID-19. myME believes that with more local support, volunteers and teachers force, they plan to expand their scope even wider.
“We believe that every child in Myanmar (Burma) has the right to access quality education, no matter their circumstance. Education is a critical step in alleviating poverty and the abuses associated with child labor.”
The work these organizations are doing really gives us hope, inspiration on tackling this barrier to the rights to education of children. On the other hand, this also gives us a picture that a problem is occurring and we have to solve it. These children require all the help they can get. All of us, the government, private orgs, down to individuals, we need to ensure their access to education, their dreams, their rights to ensure that no child in Myanmar is left behind.
Global UNICEF Out of School Initiative catchment data for Myanmar
Central Rise TEES Model report
Myanmar Education Sector Snapshot for Comprehensive School Safety and Education in Emergencies from MIMU