Education Challenges in Myanmar: Trying to Reach Education in a Chaotic Environment

Written by Müge Çınar

Education in Myanmar: the background

The first educational transition occurred in 1948, from the colonial education system to a national system. The second educational transition happened after 1962, from a national education to the so-called ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ education. From 1988 to 2010, the country’s education noticeably deteriorated so that almost 40% of children never attended school, and nearly three-quarters failed to complete even primary education (Lwing, 2007).

In September 2014, the parliament and the military-backed government approved the national education law. However, students protested against the national education law, which is highly centralised and restricts academic freedom. In June 2015, an amendment to the national education law was enacted with minor changes. The teachers, scholars and students had to obey social control. In addition, the government prioritised its political agenda in the education system.

Education Budget and the System in the Country

With education spending 2.91 per cent of the GDP, the lack of an education budget (approximately three times that of the military budget) further hinders growth. As a result, compared to other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, children in Myanmar do significantly worse on standardised tests. The new country has begun reforms, such as the gradual implementation of free education through high school. Despite some progress, there is still a long way to go (Children of the Mekong).

Children in a classroom. Photo by worak. Wikimedia Commons.

Genocide of Rohingya People by Myanmar and its Effect on Children’s Education

The Rohingyas, a Myanmar ethnic group, have been denied fundamental human rights, including citizenship. They have been subjected to terrible oppression, prejudice, violence, torture, unfair prosecution, murder, and great poverty for decades. Rakhine State’s hostile environment has caused the Rohingyas to evacuate their homes and seek asylum in neighbouring nations (Shohel, 2023). This erupted the children’s fundamental right to education while asylum-seeking and travelling with much trauma.

Many villagers have fled the fighting and their burned homes during the decade-long civil conflict. Many villages seek refuge in the bush, and the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) is growing. Hundreds of villagers lost their homes and left their communities during the recent conflict in Kachin State, northern Myanmar (Lwin, 2019). Thousands of Rohingya men, women, and children were shot and burned in a matter of weeks during the violence against the Rohingya community in northern Rakhine State, western Myanmar; masses of Rohingya women and girls were raped; infant children were killed; men and boys were arbitrarily arrested; several hundred villages were destroyed in arson attacks; and more than 700,000 people were forced to flee to neighbouring countries (Washington Post, 2017).

There are around one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including 300,000 who entered as a result of previous years’ violence (Washington Post, 2017). More than half of the Rohingya refugees are women and girls, with 60% being minors under 18 (Oxfam, 2018). According to the UNHCR (2018), 97,418 Myanmar refugees live in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. 54.4% are under 18 (The Border Consortium (TBC)). This is a question of nearly half of the population how to get proper education in refugee camps. In addition, Malaysia is one of the transit countries for refugees, and Malaysia has thousands of Rohingya refugees that have no legal refugee status by the government.

Over 31,000 refugee children from southeast Myanmar’s conflict-torn Kayah State require immediate financial assistance to continue their education. Despite the continuous violence in Kayah, pupils attend community schools, including makeshift classrooms in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps (The Irrawaddy, 2022).

How Different Are Minorities Getting Education?

Although the name ‘Burma’ is derived from the Bamar people, who constitute two-thirds of the country’s population, according to official government data, Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the region, with over 135 ethnic groups. The country’s geographic location has drawn settlers from various backgrounds throughout history. There are over 100 languages spoken, and minority ethnic populations are estimated to make up approximately 40-60% of the total population and occupy half of the land area (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), 2021).

The Bamar (68%), Chin (2.5%), Kachin (1.5%), Karen (7%), Kayah (1.83%), Mon (2%), Rakhine (4%) and Shan (9%) are the eight ‘official’ groups. The figures are from 2016. The sea gipsies’ of the southern islands, the “long-necked” ladies of Padaung, the Nagas on the Indian boundary, and the tattooed women of Chin State, not to mention the Pa-O, Wa, Kokang, Akha, and Lahu indigenous peoples, are all part of these broad groups. The country’s major religions are Theravada Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Animism.

Teaching minority languages in state schools has been prohibited in the Burmese education system since 1962, and this policy remains in place today (Lwin, 2017); even though Myanmar has an estimated population of 51 million people who speak over 100 languages and dialects, as stated above.

A teacher and some students including novice Buddhist nuns at Aung Myae OO Monastic Education School on Sagaing Hill across the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay. The ‘civilians’ have decorated their faces with thanaka, a skin protector and, among women and girls, a fashion cosmetic made from tree bark that has been used in Myanmar for at least the past two millennia. Photo by Dan Lundberg on Flickr.

The Hardship of Language in Education, Especially Ethnic Language

The language of education is not neutral since it reflects the historically determined ability of one or more groups to elevate their language to such prominence within a state. A curriculum may also contain classes that educate about local history. In certain circumstances, language is the primary divide behind ethnic conflict and civil war (Shohel, 2023). For example, Bormann, Cederman, and Vogt (2017) demonstrate that linguistic cleavages are increasingly prevalent. A centralised education sector often fails to adequately address the grievances arising from rights to identity and language (Dryden-Peterson & Mulimbi, 2016).

Child Soldiers and Child Labour

A civil war necessitates many soldiers, and both sides of the conflict use children to strengthen their forces. Although it is difficult to determine due to a lack of official estimates, tens of thousands of child soldiers are undoubtedly present in Myanmar (Children of the Mekong). These children, many orphans, are frequently enlisted or sold to armies. They are indoctrinated and pushed to battle after they join the military. Solving this problem will necessitate a reduction in ethnic tensions and enhance political stability, both of which appear unattainable.

According to UNICEF, one out of every four children aged 6 to 15 works. There are two reasons for this: schooling is still costly, and lack of finance for the education sector sometimes means that the children receive insufficient education. As a result, many rural residents prefer to send their children to work to earn money (Children of the Mekong).

Gender inequality

The military authority has been the norm rather than the exception in Myanmar for 50 years. For many decades, women were barred from holding leadership positions and were denied equal economic and educational possibilities as men. During these decades, social conventions decided that women and girls should control the household, family, and other caretaking chores while males should be leaders, owing to the country’s military and hyper-masculinity. This period’s patriarchal worldview is exemplified by the military-drafted 2008 constitution, which regularly refers to women as mothers and proclaims that specific vocations “are suitable only for men.” Myanmar was ranked second most discriminating in the 2021 Social Institutions and Gender Index2 out of nine Southeast Asian countries (UN Women & UNDP, 2022).

According to the women who responded to the survey in December 2021, “After the military takeover, all the hopes and aims are gone, and everything has been difficult. The education system is worsening, and the scarcity of jobs is increasing” Kayin resident, 55 years old (UN Women & UNDP, 2022).

Young children attend a school in Myanmar. Photo by ILO / P.Pichaiwongse on Flickr.

Children with Disabilities

According to the Ministry of Population’s 2019 survey, 12.8% of the population has one of the six disabilities: 6.3% have a visual impairment; 2.4% have a hearing impairment; 5.4% have difficulty walking; 4.4% have difficulty remembering/concentrating; 1.9% have difficulty self-care; and 1.6% have difficulty communicating (DoP, 2020, p. 93).

According to the Ministry of Education, students with disabilities attended 14.72% of all regular primary and secondary schools in 2019. In Myanmar, statistics show that education for disabled children is scarce (Tonegawa, 2022).

DoP et al., 2017: 156 estimate that 45.4% of children with impairments aged 5-9 years and 31.4% of children with disabilities aged 10-13 years have never attended school. The enrolment rate of disabled children is low compared to Myanmar’s overall net enrollment rate in formal education, which is 98.5% in formal primary education and 79.2% in formal lower secondary school. In Myanmar, school enrollment for disabled children is low (Tonegawa, 2022). This multi-sectoral review holds that Myanmar’s success in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is largely dependent.

Unqualified Higher Education Teachers and Teachers under Threat

The University scholars are expected to be positioned at the nexus of teacher training and research practice. The scarcity of research-related scholars is a crucial issue for Myanmar, with their minimal studies on their research engagement.

The teachers also, as well as students, are under threat of ongoing conflict. The 2021 coup and the civil war affected teachers’ safety. In addition, eleven though the teacher is threatened by their lives, their income is insufficient to survive.


The second anniversary of Myanmar’s February 2021 coup d’état has just passed, and the country’s terrible state of armed warfare, insurgency, turmoil, and anarchy has only worsened. With the uncertainty surrounding the postponed general elections this year, which most believe will not be free, fair, or genuine, the civil war inside Myanmar is projected to worsen in 2023. There appears to be no end in sight. All of these conditions deteriorate the access to quality education for many children.

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  • The Irrawaddy. (2022, November 24). Southeast Myanmar’s Refugee Children Need Funding to Stay in School. The Irrawaddy. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from
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  • Lall, M. (2023). The state of education, pre-reform. In Myanmar’s Education Reforms: A Pathway to Social Justice? UCL Press.
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  • Lwin, T. (2019, June 13). Global justice, national education and local realities in Myanmar: a civil society perspective. Asia Pacific Education Review, (20), 273–284.
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  • Oxfam. (2018). Bangladesh Rohingya refugee crisis. Oxfam International. Retrieved from.
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  • Tonegawa, Y. (2022, January 15). Contextualization of Inclusive Education: Education for Children with Disabilities in Myanmar. International Journal of Instruction, 15(1), 365-380.
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USA: 11 facts about high school dropout rates

Written by Néusia Cossa

We used to see social media, such as YouTube or Instagram, shaping dropouts, like how intelligent people get their lives together and become successful businessmen and women. Sometimes, this may be the case. Nevertheless, in reality, things are not so simple; high school dropouts have negatively affected society.

  1. Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone.

That is a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day[1]. The status dropout rate represents the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school and lacking a high school credential (either a diploma or an alternative certification such as a GED certificate). In 2020, there were 2.0 million status dropouts between 16 and 24, and the overall status dropout rate was 5.3 per cent. This Fast Fact estimates status dropout rates using the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a household survey that covers the civilian noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons in the military and persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities).

The status dropout rate varied by race/ethnicity in 2020. The status dropout rate for Asian 16- to 24-year-olds (2.4 per cent) was lower than the rates for Black (4.2 per cent) and White (4.8 per cent) 16- to 24-year-olds, and all three rates were lower than the rate for those who were Hispanic (7.4 per cent). The status dropout rate for Asian 16- to 24-year-olds was also lower than that for those of Two or more races (6.5 per cent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (11.5 per cent). The rate for those who were Black was lower than the rate for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native.

2. According to David Silver (2008), about 25% of high school freshmen fail to graduate from high school on time.

Neild and Balfanz (2006) analyzed the School District in Philadelphia, showing that academic experiences play a critical role in students’ lack of persistence toward high school graduation. Furthermore, many students fall off the graduation track years before entering 9th grade. Attendance rates and course failure in math and English during 8th grade were found to have strong predictive power for high school completion.  In another study, Balfanz, Herzog & Mac Iver (2007) found that using attendance, behaviour, and course failure in math and English as key predictive indicators, they identified over half of the district’s future dropouts as early as the 6th grade.  Hence, the transition into the high school setting at 9th grade can push students who have been struggling academically and/or disengaged for years off the path to graduation.

In summary, there is much evidence that high school completion and post-high school educational status are not a function of high school educational experiences alone. In some cases, early educational experiences can predict the high school track in which students are assigned, influencing educational outcomes (Gonzalez et al., 2003; Oakes, 1985/2005).  Education is a cumulative process in which earlier academic experiences inform high school academic success. Nevertheless, a more precise understanding of early school factors influencing high school performance is needed to formulate pre-high school interventions to improve high school completion rates.  

3. The U.S., which had some of the highest graduation rates of any developed country, now ranks 22nd out of 27 developed countries[2]

    The dropout rate has fallen 3% from 1990 to 2010 (12.1% to 7.4%). Whereas, in 2020, the overall status dropout rate was higher for male 16- to 24-year-olds than for female 16- to 24-year-olds (6.2 vs. 4.4 percent). Status dropout rates were higher for males than females among Hispanics (8.9 vs 5.9 per cent) and Blacks (5.6 vs 2.9 per cent). However, the status dropout rates for males and females did not measurably differ for those of two or more races, White or Asian (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022).

    4. The percentage of graduating Latino students has significantly increased. In 2010, 71.4% received their diploma vs. 61.4% in 2006. However, Asian-American and white students are far more likely to graduate than Latino and African-American students.

    5. More U.S. high school students than ever are graduating on time, according to new information released by the research arm of the U.S. Education Department.

    According to the report, the percentage of students who graduated from high school within four years of starting ninth grade in the 2006-2007 school year hit a record high. “What we see is an increase,” Jack Buckley, who directs the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, told The Huffington Post. Of the 4 million students who started school in 2006-2007, 3.1 million — or 78.2 per cent — graduated with a regular or advanced diploma in the 2009-2010 school year. That is an increase of more than two percentage points[3].

    Photo by Redd F on Unsplash

    6. A high school dropout will earn $200,000 less than a high school graduate over his lifetime. And almost a million dollars less than a college graduate.

    Earnings increase with educational level. Adults aged 25 to 64 who worked at any time during the study period earned an average of $34,700 annually. Average earnings ranged from $18,900 for high school dropouts to $25,900 for high school graduates, $45,400 for college graduates, and $99,300 for workers with professional degrees (M.D., J.D., D.D.S., or D.V.M.). Except for workers with professional degrees who have the highest average earnings, each successively higher education level is associated with an increase in earnings.

    Work experience also influences earnings.  Average earnings for people who worked full-time year-round were higher than average for all workers (including those working part-time or for part of the year). Most workers worked full-time and year-round (74 per cent).  However, the commitment to work full-time, year-round, varies with demographic factors, such as educational attainment, sex, and age.  For instance, high school dropouts (65 per cent) are less likely than people with bachelor’s degrees (77 per cent) to work full-time and year-round. Historically, women’s attachment to the labour force has been more irregular than men’s, primarily due to competing family responsibilities.7 Earnings estimates based on all workers (which includes part-time workers) include some of this variability.  Yet, regardless of work experience, the education advantage remains (Jennifer Cheeseman Day and Eric C. Newburger, 2002:2-3)[4].

    7. In 2010, 38 states had higher graduation rates. Vermont had the highest rate, with 91.4% graduating. Furthermore, Nevada had the lowest, with 57.8% of students graduating.

    Based on data collected from the states for the Class of 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 78 per cent of students across the country earned a diploma within four years of starting high school. The graduation rate was last at that level in 1974, officials said.

    Students in Maryland and Virginia had higher graduation rates than the national average — 82.2 per cent and 81.2 per cent, respectively.

    The District had a lower graduation rate than all but one state, with 59.9 per cent of its students graduating on time. However, it is not unusual for major cities to experience a higher dropout rate and lower graduation rate than states. One study found that the Class of 2005 graduation rate in the nation’s 50 largest cities was 53 per cent, compared with 71 per cent in the suburbs.

    High school graduation rates are one measure of school success, and educators and policymakers have been trying for decades to stem the number of U.S. students who drop out of high school.

    Notable in 2010 was the rise in Hispanic students who graduated on time, with a 10-point jump over the past five years to 71.4 per cent. Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority group, making up more than 50 million people, or about 16.5 per cent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. One in four pupils at public elementary schools is Hispanic.

    Graduation rates improved for every race and ethnicity in 2010, but gaps among racial groups persist. Asian students had the highest graduation rate, with 93 per cent finishing high school on time. White students followed with an 83 per cent graduation rate, American Indians and Alaska Natives with 69.1 per cent and African Americans with 66.1 per cent (Lyndsey Layton, 2013)[5].

    8. It is concerning to know that nearly 2,000 high schools in the United States have a graduation rate of less than 60%.

    More than half the African American students in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania attend high schools where most students do not graduate on time, if at all. By contrast, the percentage of White students attending weak-promoting power high schools in these states is below the national average. As a result, African American students in these states are up to 10 times more likely to attend a high school with meagre graduation rates than White students. Even more striking gaps can be found by looking at the high schools with the worst promoting power in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania (Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters, 2004:15).

    9. These “dropout factories” account for over 50% of the students who leave school every year.

    According to a new study, after decades of flat-lining graduation rates, states finally have started to turn around or close hundreds of so-called “dropout factory” schools and recover some of the thousands of students who had already given up.

    The Washington, D.C.-based policy firm Civic Enterprises, whose 2006 report, “The Silent Epidemic,” helped galvanize state and federal attention on high school dropouts, reported that most states had gained momentum in improving graduation rates but will need to improve at least five times faster to meet a national goal of 90 per cent of students graduating on time by 2020.

    The study suggests that a combination of state economic concerns and federal accountability pressure has helped drive the national graduation rate from 72 per cent in 2001 to 75 per cent in 2008, the most recent federal graduation estimate. Black, Hispanic, and Native American students made some of the most significant gains, but more than 40 per cent of those students still did not graduate on time as of 2008 (Sarah D. Sparks, 2010)[6].

    Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

    10. 1 in 6 students attend a dropout factory. 1 in 3 minority students (32%) attend a dropout factory, compared to 8% of white students.

    High schools with the worst promoting power are concentrated in a subset of states. Nearly 80% of the nation’s high schools that produce the highest number of dropouts can be found in just 15 states (Arizona, California, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas)[7].

    11. In the U.S., high school dropouts commit about 75% of crimes.

    With high youth crime rates, there seem to be other effective alternatives to combat youth violence; however, America continues to build more facilities to detain at-risk youth. “That is one of the questions that we raised with this special over and over again. Our economy is stalled. The prison industry is the fastest-growing industry in America. Why? Because it is a business, we incarcerate more people in the nation than any other country in the world. Like everything else, it is all about money,”. “The lives of these children are dependable, and it is sad because it costs a whole lot less money to educate these kids than it does to incarcerate these kids” (Tavis Smiley)[8].

    A part of society portrays dropouts positively, leading to chasing your dream because school is tedious and expensive, as some may say. However, dropouts indeed have significant effects on society and economy that are not very helpful. Therefore, people should proceed with their education for the sake of the country’s national interest.  

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