Creative Programs Keep Myanmar’s Children in School

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.

School children, Myanmar
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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Senegal’s Major Problem With Forced Child Begging

While Senegal has attempted to address some of its huge number of impoverished families with healthcare funding, many of its children are still suffering in school. Human Rights Watch reported on March 19 that many children in Senegalese Quranic boarding school sare living in unsafe conditions and are exploited by their teachers, who force the children to beg and often beat them severely when they do not return a set quota of money. “For at least 50,000 children in Senegal, economic exploitation is masquerading as religious education, as children are forced to beg for long hours to benefit the teacher, and are subjected to severe physical abuse for failing to meet his quota,” said Matt Wells, author of the report.

GPE Head visits Senegal

The government has drafted new legislation to address the problem, but critics say that more oversight is still required; there remain only two full-time inspectors for Quranic schools, of which there are thousands throughout the country. “If we’re going to inspect or even oversee inspections across Senegal, we need more personnel, we need more equipment,” said an official in the inspectorate.

The report was issued a year President Macky Sall pledged to look at the problem following a fire in one of the school that killed eight boys. The legislation proposed would gradually increase regulation and oversight for the schools. “Senegal has long had good laws on the books to address forced child begging, but government will to enforce them has been consistently lacking,” said Wells. “President Sall’s government has many allies in waiting among religious authorities and the broader population. He should swiftly seize the opportunity to put an end to the system of exploitation that threatens to leave thousands of kids with an education only in how to survive on the streets,” Wells added.

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Bilingual Educational System in Morocco Frustrates, Disadvantages Students

Morocco has recently undertaken a concerted program of education reform—taking loans from the World Bank for development, founding an education and training center for women, and creating a plan to promote women’s rights, among others.Still, the state systemically disadvantages certain students from reaching and succeeding in the highest levels of education.

Morocco employs a bifurcated system in its public schools, linguistically and culturally. Arabic is the language of primary and secondary schools, but is replaced by French at the university level. A new report argues that this both disrupts a sense of continuity between secondary and tertiary education, and puts students, especially those from the rural areas of the country, at a distinct disadvantage.

The SchoolThe change can be especially challenging for populations far from the educated urban centers of the country. Rural women especially have less exposure to French—still the language of business in Morocco—and are less prepared to advance to higher levels of education.

Students are forced to spend time adjusting to a new linguistic and educational system that could be quite different from what they were used to. The European model used in universities is prompting some students to look for alternative paradigms like instruction in English. “Morocco has long been handicapped because it has been so oriented toward Europe and France,” said Ahmed Legrouri, dean the science and engineering school at Al Akhawayn University (AIU), Morocco’s only English-language college. “I lost all hope with the French system while I was in high school,” said Fahd El Hassan, an AIU graduate from 2009. “It’s all about memorizing, not about learning.”

The reforms Morocco has made are promising and necessary. However the country does need to reevaluate its system of higher education if it is to allow all its citizens to compete for positions in the academy and in the global workforce.

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Myanmar’s Government Excludes Influential Education Group from Reform Talks

Myanmar is in the midst of a massive upheaval. Following the 2011 dissolution of the military junta that had controlled the country since 1962, the country has begun a process of democratization and reform. But now, just after the Ministry of Education hosted a forum on reforming an educational system in desperate need of change, the government is facing criticism for excluding the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), a prominent civil group attached to the National League for Democracy (NLD), the opposition party. “In their latest action, they have denied us participation. We don’t think their process is inclusive enough,” said NNER member Sai Khaing Myo Tun.

burma seah1 coverThein Lwin, speaking for the NLD education bloc, said 150 members of the NNER were initially invited to attend the forum, but then the government abruptly revoked their invitations. “We had already prepared to go, and they cancelled,” said Lwin. “It is difficult to work together with the government because this is not the first time they have changed their minds. It’s difficult to believe them, to trust them.”

The Ministry of Education is currently in a two-year process of reviewing the public school system, identifying major priorities and recommending new policies. Ministry officials in charge of the Comprehensive Education Sector Review maintain that their process is inclusive and that they are collaborating with civil groups, NGOs, and community organizations.

In this latest process of education reform, civil groups like the NNER are calling for autonomous universities, higher teacher pay, and lessons involving ethnic minorities and multilingual education.

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Accusations of Millions Embezzled through Nepalese School Construction Projects

Nepal has become a leader in innovate education technologies in South Asia, allocating billions to provide its state-run secondary schools with computers and internet access. However, Nepal is also one of the most corrupt states in South Asia, and recent reports find those two qualities intersecting. Millions of rupees are reported to have been embezzled through school construction projects under the School Sector Reform Plan (SRRP) in the Nawalparasi District of Nepal.

School class Nepal Accusations are that construction relatively small, child-friendly classrooms—two-room adjunct facilities added to existing schools—were consistently over-budgeted. Projects that should have cost between 1.2 and 1.4 million rupees (about $12,000-14,000) were consistently budgeted at twice that amount. School principals argued that the construction companies were sending substandard bricks and other low-quality materials. “More than 5,000 of the 9,000 bricks supplied [to our project] so far were sub-standard,” said Damodar Pathak, head teacher in Rastriya Lower Secondary school in Sanai. The District Education Officer, Tek Bahadur Thapa, said his office had no financial responsibility for budgeting the projects. “We were only granted technical and managerial responsibility,” said Thapa. Kamal Sah, an engineer at the district education office, says that some 6 million rupees have been embezzled through the projects.

SRRP is an initiative backed by the World Bank devoted to “increas access and improv quality of school education, particularly basic education.” The projects in question, constructing child-friendly classrooms in as many as 40 schools in the Nawalparasi district, is underwritten by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which operates a number of education support programs in Nepal.

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Liberian Teachers Demand Pack Pay from Education Ministry

On Wednesday, Feb. 5, public school teachers gathered at the Ministry of Education in the Liberian city of Sinkor to demand back pay from the government. The teachers allege that they have not been paid since their appointment in August of 2012 and are owed more than LD$300,000 (about $3,500) each. Rancy Kenneh, a spokesperson for the teachers, said that they were initially recruited and trained by the Ministry of Education at facilities across the country. “Upon our graduation from these institutions, we were in August 2012 sent to work at various government schools, especially those in rural areas, as principals and teachers; but the government has failed to pay us for the services we rendered and still rendering,” he added. Officials from the ministry did not comment on the situation.

Faces – Together Liberia – Bruce Strong

The Liberian government has had serious problems in the education sector in the last year. In December 2013, the University of Liberia suspended all classes after students began protesting and pressuring provost Madam Wade Elliot Brownell to resign. Two years ago, teachers in Monrovia went on strike demanding higher pay. Teachers went on strike again in 2013. Without a stable economic climate, the country has been unable to keep workers happy and paid. It is unlikely that this will be the last incident in this continuing trend in Liberia.

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Indian Compulsory Education Law Designed Actually Shuts Down Schools

Hundreds of low-cost private schools in India, which have become increasingly popular, are now being forced to shut down as a result of a new compulsory education law, titled Right To Education. The law, as part of India’s program to reform its educational system, requires a free and compulsory education for all children through elementary school. However, the law also mandates certain standards for educational facilities—standards these low-cost schools cannot meet.

School girls in Tamil Nadu, India The private schools, which offer education for as little as 100 rupees (about $1.63) a month—low enough to be available even to some of India’s poorest citizens—are being forced to shut down because their facilities do not meet RTE’s standards.

Critics of the schools say that that they are not providing running water or other basic amenities, and that they are not providing a high quality education. Some schools say that they will have to raise costs in order to meet the demands of the law. But parents students are fighting back. “Our parents are the pooorest of the poor, labourers and migrant workers, they won’t be able to afford it,” said Citanjali Krishnan, a teacher in a private school in Panchsheel Enclave in Delhi. Though comprehensive data on the school closings has not been released, officials have said that over 1,900 schools have been closed throughout the country so far.

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Education Reform Falling Short in Pakistan

Pakistan is in the process of enacting education reform, introducing new programs and legislating increased access to schools. A recent law, the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, adopted last March, mandated that the state fund education for children between 5 and 16 years old. However, only one provision of that law has been enacted: the distribution of free textbooks to children in first through tenth grade.

School in Rahbat village, near Chalt

Recent reports indicate that the Sindh province, Pakistan’s second most populous, lags far behind other areas of the country. A survey in 2012 reported that 32 per cent of the province’s children between ages six and 16 were out of school—more than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the country’s north that are beset with terrorism. Similarly, FATA students performed better in measures of quality than students in Sindh, outperforming them in arithmetic and English.

Some complain that the government has slackened in its oversight of the Sindh school system since the 1980s, resulting in school shutdowns and an overall decline in quality. “With no government attention paid to school monitoring, schools began to shut down and no new schools were opened in response to increasing population,” said Dur Mohammed Buriro, an education campaigner. According to Sindh’s education minister, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, some 3,000 schools are currently closed in Sindh, along with another 28,000 without power, and 20,000 without water. Bruiro said that the first priority for Pakistani schools should be increasing enrollment. “If there are no students in schools, then who will get the free and compulsory education?”

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Northern States in Nigeria Undertake Education Reform

In March, governors of the 19 Northern States of Nigeria met to eliminate secondary school fees in an effort to boost student enrollment. Governor of the Niger state and chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, Babangida Aliyu called education the bedrock of any development announced two further reforms: a “Grade 2 Teachers Training Programme” to improve teacher qualification and training in the region, and a resolution to harmonize fees among tertiary institutions. Aliyu also stated that a conference dedicated to addressing the region’s substandard educational performance would be held soon.

Dendo Secondary School

Northern Nigeria has fared worse than in other areas of the country as schools have felt the impact of Islamist attacks throughout the region. Those attacks have also deeply affected the local economy. Educating more students at the secondary and tertiary levels may represent steps toward economic recovery. Recent studies have shown that it is actually cheaper to educate children than keep them out of school. In the case of Nigeria, where 10 million children do not attend school, when those children enter the labor force in 10 years the country is expected to lose a full percent loss of GDP—around $3 billion. The northern states can assuage this loss by better preparing more students, steps they are taking with these resolutions.

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Despite Reforms, Education in Myanmar Has a Long Way to Go

In December, the Women’s Forum of Myanmar hosted a panel on education to discuss the progress the country has made—and how far it still has to go. Myanmar’s government, only recently reconstituted following the dissolution of the military junta that had ruled the country since 1988, has made moves to reform the repressed educational system, like reopening Yangon University and reinvesting in higher education. However, critics of the system suggest that the nation’s education has fallen in quality over the past decades. “In terms of quality, we have far to go,” said MP Su Su Lwin. “During the past 25 or 30 years, there’s been a decline in quality.”

burma seah1 cover

The panel, echoing previous calls for higher education reform in Myanmar, targeted tertiary education as a necessary step in solidifying both a democratic transition, and better educational performance. Kamal Ahmad, founder of the Asian University for Women, based in Bangladesh, argued “You have to have a decent secondary education. You to have a decent higher education because where will the teachers come from? Who will develop the curriculum? Who will provide leadership?” A focus on higher education is aimed to ameliorate the “lost generation” created by the junta’s repression of schools and especially universities.

Also at issue is the persistent problem of gender discrimination in Myanmar schools, where women are held to higher entrance standards than men. One young woman reported that “To go to the Institute of Medicine, girls have to score higher than boys. A girl needs to reach 420 out of 500 points [on the entrance exam]. Boys can get accepted if they have only 390 to 400 points.”

There are international funding efforts to assist Myanmar’s educational system. Last month, the World Bank renewed its development commitment to Myanmar. The commitment “includes funding of around $200 million… to help Myanmar make progress towards MDGs ” including education, said Word Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

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