Myanmar is currently pursuing an aggressive course of education reform and restructuring, including reopening universities and investing in higher education. But one of the country’s greatest challenges as it moves forward will be keeping enough students in school before they reach university. Nearly all children in Myanmar attend primary school—an estimated 89.8 per cent, but that number falls off drastically. Less than half (49.3 per cent) of adolescent males attend secondary school, and only slightly more (52.3 per cent) of girls do.
U Myo Win, executive director of Smile Education and Development Foundation, a nonprofit in Yangon, says that dropouts are most common in poor and rural areas. Addressing the problem will require state investment in schools, and “changing the poor families’ economic situation,” he said.
That thinking has inspired some to think of creative ways to support families and keep their children in school. U Naing Winn, a former chemist, created the Socio-Lite Microfinance Foundation—a company that gives small loans to families on the condition that all recipients keep their kids in school; if families cannot meet tuition costs, the foundation will provide scholarships to cover the costs. The foundation has proved successful, and boasts a 99.8 per cent repayment rate. Winn hopes the program will help people like Ko Zaw Htun, who has worked as a ferryman on the Yangon river for $40 a week for 18 years so his children can stay in school and have “a better future.”
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