Myanmar’s standard of education is lagging far behind the developing world, having faced decades of an underfunded education sector. According to UNICEF Myanmar, the effects range from weak school infrastructures and outdated teaching methods and curriculum to having insufficient numbers of qualified teachers. The 2013 ASEAN State of Education Report also states that the grossly underfunded education system and the scarcity of the state-of-the-art learning and teaching resources have been impeding the country’s efforts to upgrade the education standard. The situation is aggravated by the circumstances in which the students have to learn by rote and regurgitate in exams rather than being nurtured to think critically and develop reasoning skills.
It is undeniable that such a low standard of education results in a lack of literacy, and technical know-hows and life skills that students in Myanmar need to thrive in a globalised 21st Century world. These implications on existing human resources contribute to a very high level of unemployment among the younger generation in particular.
As poverty causes migration, a large number of Myanmar’s citizens (4.25 million according to the “2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census” reported by UNFPA), are living abroad to pursue better education and for employment opportunities. The Burmese diaspora are also very likely to lose connection and are unable to contribute back to their home country owing to the geographical distance and some other circumstances. This highlights that the poor quality education and the shortage of human resources are the pressing issues heading Myanmar towards increasing brain drain.
A Solution is Born
In 2018, a group of Burmese college youth studying abroad initiated a passion project called BridgeBurma in an attempt to counteract the effects of brain drain in Myanmar. With the mission of cultivating collective wisdom, and the vision of increasing talents in their home country, they are dedicated to sharing information, knowledge, resources and experiences that they have acquired abroad with their peers studying in Myanmar, bridging the gap of opportunities and resource access between the local and global Burmese youth.
May Shin Lyan, Co-founder and CEO of BridgeBurma, said, “whilst pursuing state-of-the-art education in Germany and the United States through various scholarships, I have always dreamed of sharing similar education opportunities to youth in Myanmar. Knowing our country is one of the developing nations in the world and as a Myanmar citizen, I feel the responsibility to make sure youth in Myanmar can dream freely without limit, without concerns about finances and without obstacles from lack of opportunities. So for the betterment of the Myanmar’s youth community, my dream is to make their dreams come true through our BridgeBurma platform.”
What BridgeBurma does for Myanmar’s Youth Community
With the aim of educating the Myanmar youth community and enriching their knowledge, BridgeBurma is providing a number of education services free of charge: forum, online and offline mentorship programs, editorials, podcasts and informational videos.
The Forum is the first feature that BridgeBurma developed for Bridgers (the organisation’s preferred moniker for its audience). It allows students to ask any questions regarding education abroad, career and many others, and receive answers and advice from the mentors who are pursuing higher education abroad.
- Online and Offline Mentorship Programs
BridgeBurma has been conducting Online Mentorship program once a month, and this May marks its 5th batch. Approximately 75 Burmese students so far have been provided with one-on-one education counselling with regards to their further studies and career development. The mentorship program received many positive reviews from the mentees.
On top of the virtual mentorship programs, in the summer of 2019, the BridgeBurma team went to six academic institutions in Yangon and Mandalay, and mentored approximately over 300 students regarding higher education abroad and scholarship opportunities.
- Editorials, Podcasts and Videos
Led by the Editor-in-Chief, Anna Tan, BridgeBurma has recently launched an editorial project, which is starting off as a blog page featuring opinion/academic articles and scholarship news. “BridgeBurma Editorials aims to educate the Burmese community on a range of academic fields from computer science to international relations to economics, as well as through tips on professional and academic development,” explained Anna, on the purpose of BridgeBurma Editorials.
BridgeBurma also has a developing podcast project under the editorials, which is expected to be launched around the end of June or early July. “We do this with the hope that the Burmese online community, especially its youth members, who may not have access to private education can still have access to high quality, liberal, educational resources," Anna added.
In addition to Editorials and Podcasts, BridgeBurma is also striving to educate the Burmese youth through the video content, giving advice on education, personal and career development, and so forth, by its outstanding mentors who are pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate studies in different universities abroad. “We are now working on creating the informative and educational video content to channel the knowledge and wisdom we have acquired and our experiences abroad back to the local Burmese youth,” says Thu Ta Aung, BridgeBurma’s Chief Operation Officer.
BridgeBurma’s Response to COVID 19
In response to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, BridgeBurma team initiated COVID-19 Campaign through GoFundMe and helped the Burmese community by fundraising and mobilizing donations to Myanmar. During Phase 1 of the campaign, the team raised around $5000 together with Ko Ye Foundation and donated over 12,500 masks to the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) of the Myanmar Government, with the aim of supporting healthcare workers on the ground to have more protective wear. “We thought even though our efforts are small in the grand scheme of things, we were happy to still be able to make a difference big or small. The COVID campaign is aimed to help not just the youth but the wider Burmese community,” said Anna Tan, Editor-in-Chief and HR Manager, who led the Phase 1 COVID 19 campaign for BridgeBurma.
Partnering with the Cambridge University Southeast Asia Society (CUSEAS) as well as Doh Eain/I Do Nation for the Phase 2 part of the campaign, BridgeBurma team also supported Myanmar’s urban vulnerable communities. In the Phase 2, BridgeBurma donated $1425 (2,000,000 MMK) to 200 street vendors residing in different impoverished townships in Yangon, who cannot operate their business due to the pandemic and are at risk of hunger. Each vendor received 10,000 MMK.
“We have always wanted to support Myanmar in any way we can because BridgeBurma is founded on the very idea of giving back to our home country. Therefore, in times of hardships imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we took a prompt action by fundraising and mobilizing donations to the most needed areas of Myanmar,” said Khin Myint Myat Zin, Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of BridgeBurma.
For the time being, BridgeBurma team is collecting donations to conduct Phase 3 of the COVID 19 campaign in which another $1425 (2, 000,000 MMK) is planned to be disbursed to 200 vulnerable street vendors in Yangon again, as so they have done for Phase 2.
BridgeBurma’s ambitions on the Future of Myanmar’s Youth Community
BridgeBurma, is now a growing team with the recent involvement of some new members who are the local Burmese students studying in Myanmar. The global and local Burmese youth have come together to work towards cultivating collective wisdom and increasing local talents in Myanmar, by creating more projects and services on education for the professional and academic development of Myanmar’s youth community.
“In the future, we plan to provide additional services like online e-learning, organization collaborations and university linking. Through our online e-learning service, youth across Myanmar will be able to learn world-class educational content,” explained May Shin Lyan on BridgeBurma’s future plans for the academic growth of Myanmar’s youth community. “We will always be there to help our home country and work to the best of our abilities to have a positive impact on Myanmar,” Khin Myint Myat Zin expressed BridgeBurma’s enthusiasm to work towards the betterment of Myanmar’s human resources.