eudcation_in_MyanmarEducation in Myanmar is improving, though this progress has been slow. At the time of the British decolonization of Asia in 1948, Myanmar (then Burma) was lauded for having one of the top educational systems in the continent.

Many experts projected that Myanmar would come to be one of the central powers of the region due to its superior education, however, this has not been the case.

The World Bank has attributed the country’s now weak education system to various warring ethnic groups, particularly the progressive power of military rule that took hold over a half-century ago.

Myanmar has only recently begun to give way to democratic rule–the system that was originally intended for the developing country in 1948.

From the beginning of military involvement in governance in the early 1960s, an increasing list of sanctions was placed upon the country.

With the combination of international economic restrictions and tightening limitations from the military government, education in Myanmar quickly began to decompose.

However, after decades of brutal military rule, the people began to fight against the stiff restrictions imposed upon them. Notably, in November 2015, Htin Kyaw was elected as president of Myanmar in the first openly contested parliamentary elections that the country has ever had.

Since then, many sanctions have been lifted to allow open international trade and commerce.

With these recent signs of progress, many are optimistic that the education system in Myanmar will also begin to improve. Dr. Mya Oo, the Secretary of Education Development Committee of Myanmar has said that the first step that is needed is to create a system of free and compulsory education.

The first five years of education in Myanmar are already compulsory, but they are not free. The imposed educational fees put a strain on impoverished families who are usually forced to opt out from lack of personal resources.

There is also a certain level of discrimination against girls and ethnic minorities, which further limits the proportion of students in school. Only one-third of students reach the five-year level of education and this number decreases exponentially as the students continue to progress toward higher schooling.

The current Myanmar government recognizes these as serious issues, and as such recently announced, it plans to help boost enrollment rates as well as the quality of education. These propositions address increases in funding, focusing on equal education for women and ethnic minorities, building schools in remote areas and establishing better training systems for teachers.

These goals are scheduled to be reached before the end of 2016.

The government is also placing a greater emphasis on higher education as well. Myanmar governmental and educational officials have begun to consult with a number bordering states and European entities for improvement ideas in their universities.

Many of suggestions include universal equality, the establishment of student unions and universities that are allowed to operate autonomously.

With the implementation of these targets, many are optimistic that Myanmar will be able to provide for the anticipated influx of students seeking higher education.

Government oppression and poverty made it nearly impossible to achieve more than basic literacy. However, as the country works toward social progress, it is hoped that education in Myanmar can be brought back to life in a timely and efficient manner.

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

The U.S. Army's Failed Anthropology Experiment
In 2006, a program dubbed the Human Terrain System was introduced to the U.S. Army as an anthropological effort to learn more about the culture of the Iraqi and Afghan people. The program aimed to combine social science with military intelligence to gain more Intel on the cultural factors at play in the countries’ high level of extremism and terrorism. HTS faced substantial criticism from the start, from both experts in anthropology and war, as well as from both left and right-sided politics. The program cost taxpayers an estimated $700 million over a span of seven years before it was halted. The program ended in September of 2014, but the defeat of the program was widely unknown, at least from a public standpoint, until just recently.

Despite the criticism, a multi-sector approach to the conflict in the Middle East could have the potential for tremendous reward. The brisk implementation, lack of adequate organization and training and high level of criticism seemed to completely deplete any and all advantages that HTS could have brought to U.S. efforts. It is widely known and supported that investment in encouraging development in areas of underdevelopment is generally a long term investment in decreasing conflict and therefore strengthening homeland defense. In fact, 84 percent of military officers said that strengthening non-military tools, such as diplomacy and development efforts, should be at least equal to strengthening military efforts, and yet the U.S. spends a tiny fraction of foreign spending on alleviating poverty. Understanding the culture in which soldiers are living and interacting within would be of a tremendous value for U.S. troops. So, why, then, was the introduction of HTS faced with so little support?

For one, the program was developed and implemented rather quickly, and without adequate research and planning. There was little training for workers who would be immersed in an area of high combat, intense climate and a language barrier, which not only put the workers in danger, but also took away from their ability to adequately gather information and inform troops.

Additionally, posing the project as an anthropology initiative posed serious ethical concerns. Some viewed it as the U.S. army gaining knowledge of the culture and its people to more efficiently subjugate violence against them. The anthropological community strongly upheld that argument, which contributed to a lack of support and expertise in that area contributing to the program. Additionally, on the ground, this dilemma brought on varying degrees of suspicion among Iraqi and Afghan people, which could further put the HTS workers in danger.

Also, the lack of adequate leadership and development of the program left room for major problems in mismanagement, corruption, racism and sexual harassment. The program was cited for hiring unqualified workers at all levels. The impossible work environment and lack of general expertise and professional knowledge rendered the program nearly ineffective.

Overall, the program, at first glance, would seem potentially invaluable for both domestic military leaders and for the troops actively engaged on the ground. However, the mismanagement and lack of seriousness of the program made for an ineffective and potentially dangerous program. The quiet termination of the program was needed, but it also further complicated the issue of future efforts in combining social science with military activism. Instead of using the program as a one time effort that failed and from which we can move on, we should use the failure as a learning opportunity. Using experts from both fields to create a working program with credible leadership and intensive training could not only give the U.S. Army an advantage, but also decrease overall violence in the areas where implemented. We also need to remove some of the strict labels put on such projects due to the political associations they may have, which could influence the support of projects, something they really lack.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Bloomberg, Foreign Policy
Photo: Newsweek

transgender_troops
A new study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine should dispel financial worries about allowing transgenders in military troops.

As the Pentagon moves to allow transgender people to serve in the U.S. military, debate has risen concerning the potential specialized healthcare they might require. This new study shows that the total cost of providing transition-related healthcare to transgender troops would be $5.6 million per year.

While that’s a high number, taken in the context of the entire U.S. military budget, it’s almost microscopic. The Defense Department’s annual healthcare budget currently sits at around $48 billion. When placed against this number, the potential $5.6 million required for transgender troops amounts to less than one-hundredth of a percent.

“Under any plausible estimation method, the costs are minimal,” Aaron Belkin, the study’s author, said in a statement. “Having analyzed the cost that the military will incur by providing transition-related care, I am convinced that it is too low to warrant consideration in the current policy debate.”

One of the criticisms being leveraged against this move is that the military will become a “magnet employer” for those seeking free health care. Belkin, however, denies this as a possibility, noting that the military has grown smaller over the years and that the Australian military has seen no negative impact from implementing the same reform.

According to the study, over roughly the past four years, 13 out of 58,000 total Australian troops underwent gender transition surgery. This averages out to around 1 soldier per 11,154 a year. In the United States, that ratio would be around 192 soldiers undergoing gender transition surgery annually out of a total 2,136,779 troops.

“What the research shows is that if you’re going to lift the ban, it doesn’t make sense to do so unless you also provide medically-necessary care,” Belkin said.

Alexander Jones

Sources: Nejm, USA Today, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Russia Insider

MAG America
People know that war leaves scars, on bodies, minds, families and homes. Those affected live with the destruction, adapting to the best of their ability, and attempt to go on with their lives. While international support in the wake of conflict is great, little thought is given to the scars left behind in war zones.

When peace is brokered, troops leave behind bullets, elaborately packaged, carefully hidden explosives and yet-to-be-detonated fireworks of the military grade variety. Farmers fear working their fields. The building of roads, schools and water lines is halted indefinitely. Economic recovery is nearly impossible, at least until the threats are eliminated.

The Mines Advisory Group, or the MAG, has tasked itself with removing such lingering threats. Since 1989, MAG America employees have provided extensive training to volunteers living in post-war zones. Teams clear landmines and explosive weapons that did not go off when fired, and remove abandoned weapons, strategizing to prevent their proliferation.

To protect communities where mine contamination and weapons surpluses remain, the MAG offers programs that teach people how to recognize threats, what areas to avoid and emergency procedures. The MAG employs 2,400 people in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The 2,400 individuals make up about 90 percent of the MAG staff. Most are from severely underprivileged communities. Not only do these individuals benefit from the steady salary, they additionally receive professional training as mine destruction specialists, educators, community liaison specialists and medics.

The MAG is currently working to secure military storage in El Salvador, where access to small arms has fueled the second highest homicide rate in the world. Land clearing operations in Lebanon are ongoing, as they are in Iraq. The organization is aiding seven nations in Africa and four nations in Southeast Asia.

Manchester is home to the MAG’s international operations, while MAG America is based in Washington, D.C. More volunteers and staffers are needed, but the MAG recommends three ways to join its cause: become a “team driver” by building your own awareness, a “medic” by raising awareness in your community or a “virtual deminer” by fundraising or donating.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: MAG 1, MAG 2, MAG 3, MAG 4, Idealist
Sources: MAG

Center for Civilians in Conflict
From the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to the lawlessness in Somalia, many of the world’s regions experience violence and warfare. Countless civilians struggle to survive in war zones while terrorist groups, warlords and corrupt governments fight. The Center for Civilians in Conflict, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., seeks to be an ally to the innocent people surrounded by enemies. By helping to establish legal rights for conflict victims, the center holds warring groups responsible for their actions.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict’s founder, Marla Ruzicka, began her efforts to help victims of violence in 2001, when she traveled to Afghanistan after the war began. She found that neither side kept counts of civilian deaths or helped injured noncombatants and formed the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict in response. Ten years later, her organization, now called the Center for Civilians in Conflict, works to get justice for people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other locations around the world.

Today’s conflicts have severe human and economic costs. The wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have caused the deaths of at least 174,000 noncombatants, and several times more have died because of destroyed hospitals and infrastructure, according to the Costs of War Project. Marla Ruzicka herself died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2005; her colleagues continued her work.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict uses multiple strategies to ensure human rights for those affected by violence. One way the organization helps is by working with U.S. legislators to design aid policies that protect and provide critical resources to conflict victims. The Marla Ruzicka fund, a USAID branch modeled and named after the founder, has given more than $7 million to help Iraqi families affected by conflict.

The U.S. government is not the only one that receives legislative advice from the Center for Civilians in Conflict. The nonprofit also works with foreign governments to create legal frameworks for giving civilians protection and the right to reparations. Recommendations that the center made to the Pakistani government to improve assistance funding to individual provinces have already been implemented.

Along with advocacy and legislation in the U.S. and abroad, the Center for Civilians in Conflict also works within combat zones to assess civilian damage and better create policies to help those affected. One of the nonprofit’s first actions was to take surveys of victims of the Iraq war in 2003. The center continues these surveys in Syria and Somalia, and it was the first group to publish reports on civilian casualties in Somalia.

To make it easier for governments to track civilian deaths, the Center for Civilians in Conflict trains local military and police forces to record and respond to civilian casualties. The government of Afghanistan is working to implement these strategies and has already created an office to measure civilian harm.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict consistently works to help violence victims get assistance funding from their own governments and from abroad to make up for the damage they suffer in wars. It also make sure governments can properly track civilian casualties and establish legal frameworks that give them rights to protection and reparation.

The damage from war is difficult to undo, but the Center for Civilians in Conflict makes sure innocent people can get the justice they deserve.

– Ted Rappleye

Sources: Civilians in Conflict, Civilians in Conflict 2, Costs of War, Global Communities
Photo: Civilians in Conflict

humanitarian vs. military aid
Since the end of World War II and the success of the Marshall Plan in bringing European countries back from the rubble, the United States has lead humanitarian efforts worldwide. When violence and suffering has broken out in various countries, the U.S. has played a central role in addressing the situation.

However, in many instances, the line that divides humanitarian and military responses to crises around the world has been blurred. As the global relief system emerged from a response to post-war years, it is understandable that the military plays an important role in delivering aid to countries facing political struggles or natural disasters.

In 1955, the humanitarian aid system began to expand in response to liberation struggles in new nations. Large groups of people facing displacement required immediate responses from powerful nations to survive. Militaries had the necessary training, discipline and self-supporting manpower to respond to these various disasters.

However, military responses to humanitarian crises can sometimes have unintended results. Transferring modes and doctrines used in post-war Europe to conflict and natural disasters in the third world has proven to be inappropriate or even counterproductive.

“Provision of tents to victims of an earthquake or hurricane often delayed reconstruction and failed to address critical land issues. Construction of refugee camps for famine victims drew people away from their land, making agricultural recovery nearly impossible and creating an even larger relief requirement. Massive inoculations were not only inappropriate but, when applied incompletely, they often broke down the people’s natural immunities, actually increasing their risk to disease.”

Beside these secondary effects, the use of military in humanitarian aid operation leads to a more complex issue: the lack of sufficient funding for humanitarian assistance. Militaries are usually the most accessible for providing emergency relief. However, this does not mean they are the most cost effective. In some instances, these expenses are compensated for by decreasing funding for the actual civilian humanitarian operations.

A common belief is that the cost of military intervention in humanitarian aid is borne by the military itself. But usually, the military is reimbursed by the country’s department or ministry in charge of foreign aid operations. This means that funding is taken away from civilian lead humanitarian aid. It also turn out that the cost of humanitarian operations increases when the military is involved in relief efforts.

Today, more than ever, the military remains involved in humanitarian aid. While this kind of intervention is vital in some instances, it carries hidden costs and produces unintended, harmful consequences in most cases.

Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: PBS, USA Today
Photo: USA Today

junta in thailand
Since May 22, 2014, Thailand has been under the strict reign of a military junta. Many worried about the immediate effects of the ousting of the prime minister and the social upheaval it spawned. Two months later, Thailand remains under the same leadership with the detrimental effects to their economy to prove it.

Domestic demand and investment are the two hardest hit regions of Thailand’s delicate economy, as the growth continues to slow at a steady pace. Efforts are being made to improve the economy with little to show for it.

The junta ordered the price drop on diesel fuel and cooking oil for a six-month period, angering the local businesses that rely on that as income.

The Bank of Thailand originally believed in a 2.9 percent growth rate for the 2014 economy and has lowered that estimate to an extremely modest projected growth rate of 1.5 percent. This drop clearly depicts the failing changes being made by the junta.

In attempts to encourage the process of internal and external investment in Thailand, the junta has cleared 100 incentives in just two months, costing an estimated $6.3 billion to follow through with the pitches. Still, they managed to change the negative national deficit to surplus hundreds of millions of dollars with little announced plan of action for the money.

However, it appears that Thailand is finding moderate success in the international market, with increases in exported goods to the United States and Europe. For the first time in six months, Thailand increased shipments to China, one of their main buyers.

The economic effects appear to be undetermined with a range of positive and negative effects influencing the lives of millions. For instance, many rural dwellers are out of reach from the programs being kickstarted in major cities.

In the midst of the economic shift lies the ongoing ethnic conflict in isolated provinces. The non-existent work done by the junta in Thailand to address the attacks demonstrates the weakness and short-term mentality of the junta.

Thailand is incapable of success with a constant fear of violent outbreak looming in the forefront of their minds.

In light of this, four were killed due to a bombing in the southern Pattani province as an attack against the insurgence in the area.

Over 5,000 have fallen victim to the horrific violence and the junta appears to side step each outbreak of violence.

The stability of the military junta is questionably short-term, with the likelihood of a social-born revolt to take it down. The junta demonstrates efforts being made in the economic sector of the country while ignoring the human rights issues occurring throughout the country.

It’s unlikely that the junta will gain support if they continue to ignore the ethnic cleansing in southern Thailand.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Wall Street Journal, NASDAQ, ABC News, Radio Australia
Photo: Fox News

military_detentions
As of late, Thailand has been struggling to produce a functional government. A coup in 2006 led to a military supported democratic government, which in the past six months, has suffered heavy street protests. This led to its fall and another coup on May 22 of this year. The new military junta has decided to call itself The National Council for Peace and Order led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. They have stated that they intend to install another democratic government, but the time frame for military power has been given as “indefinite.” A recent incident involving illegal military detentions do not bode well for a democratic Thailand.

This week Human Rights Watch called for the arbitrary military detentions by the Thai junta to stop. More specifically, it called for the release of a political activist named Kritsuda Khunasen, 27, who was arrested on May 28, and has not been seen or heard from since. The military government has declined to disclose any information on her whereabouts.

The reason Khunasen’s case raises some red flags is because most of the people arrested with her have been set free, and on June 17, the military junta put her name on a summons list for people who have to turn themselves in or face arrest. By putting her name on the list, it would appear that the military junta is trying to create the perception that she has not already been detained.

Rights organizations are worried they put her on the list because something has happened to her and they are trying to cover up her disappearance. However, there is video evidence of her being arrested on May 28 and her family has not seen her since the arrest.

Khunasen works with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, which is a group that was opposed to the late and ineffective prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. They recently switched objectives and have begun to oppose the military coup. Within the group Khunasen “has been instrumental in a campaign to provide legal and humanitarian assistance to UDD members and supporters affected by political violence.” She is a well-known political activist so her detention is not surprising as many other prominent activists have been detained.

This detention is illegal. It violates the 1949 Martial Law Act which was adopted by the military junta after it took power on May 22 of this year. This law only allows for seven days of detention. Thailand is also a party of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which rules against arbitrary arrests and torture. Disappeared people historically suffer high levels of torture.

The detention of Khunasen and the possible cover-up of her disappearance is worrisome for Thailand, which has been in the midst of political crisis for years now. Since the junta took power a few short weeks ago, between 300-500 people have been detained. The junta has also enforced a curfew and has begun cracking down on immigrant labor. In fact, 188,000 Cambodians have fled the country in recent weeks.

Although the NCPO claims to be in the process of arranging democratic elections by August, an attempt to cover-up an illegal detention brings those claims into question. How can they claim to believe in democratic ideals when they detain people illegally? If the NCPO wants to move Thailand in the right direction, it would seem that Khunasen should be released, or at least given access to a doctor and legal counsel.

— Eleni Marino

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Time, NY Times
Photo: CNN

As the military coup continues in Thailand, Thai military leaders delivered rice payments promised to farmers. The rice was given to the government in return of payments through a rice-pledging scheme created by Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister of Thailand, as a populist measure.

The previous government blamed the protests and the limited mandate of the government, after the parliament was dissolved last year, for the failure to pay farmers the promised sums. However, the program has been criticized for its waste and corruption, especially by the Bangkok establishment. Intended to help rural areas, the payouts are double the market price found on world markets.

Regardless, the military has made it one of their first priorities.

The Thai military ordered that 92 billion baht, or $2.8 billion, be paid out, while the country’s banks must lend the government the necessary cash.

In the national newspaper, Ban Maung, headlines read: “Farmers Receive Money With Tears of Joy,” in line with the compliant role the Thai media has taken with the military.

Despite many reports of praise from farmers over the payout, in the northeast section of  Thailand, where support for the previous regime remains high, the policy is unlikely to gain much support, according to David Streckfuss, an expert in Thai politics of the northeast region.

In Chiang Yuen, a part of Northeastern Thailand, farmers hope for a return to normalcy, in which they expect the ousted Pheu Thai party and its populist policies to return to power.

For the Bangkok middle-class, the loss of their hegemony over Thai politics left many in dissatisfaction. Particularly, many felt that the system of democracy that was in place consigned them into the structural minority. Now the middle-class views democracy as an inefficient and wasteful use of their taxes, especially as many government policies only benefit the ‘greedy poor.’

In contrast, many people from the northern provinces feel the benefits and are in favor of the previous government.

As the coup continues, the outbreak of class warfare is likely. Although the middle-class is pushing for the return to a constitutional minority rule, such a result is unlikely.

The potential for a descent into civil war in which the Northern provinces would oppose the Bangkok establishment is possible. If such a result were to happen, the effects would be devastating, displacing many into poverty and ruining the promise of the nation and its progress.

— William Ying

Sources: BBC, Borgen, Channel News Asia, New York Times, The Nation
Photo: Channel News Asia 2

Tiananmen Square

The spring of 1989 saw one of the most sensitive moments of Chinese history unfold. Students began leading demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and experienced widespread support from surrounding residents. On June 4, Chinese troops armed with assault rifles attacked student demonstrators, killing anywhere from hundreds to thousands in a bloody crackdown. But in recent years, new stories of the events of Tiananmen Square have come to the surface, and they draw a more complex picture.

By June, student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square had entered month two. Chinese leaders were unsettled, and army commanders were called to pledge loyalty and commitment to the possibility of military force to crush student protest. Maj. Gen. Xu Qinxian refused to do so, and declined to lead troops into Beijing.

The protesters, Xu believed, were a political issue that required negotiation, not military force.

Xu’s defiance is just one example of a complicated and resistant military reaction to Tiananmen Square. One soldier of the 39th Group Army held genuine fears of having to fight Xu’s 38th Group Army as rumors of the general’s actions spread. But the commander of the 39th Group Army never even made his troops enter the square, faking communication problems. Another soldier, seventeen years old at the time of the crackdown, shared experiences of bonding between his unit, stationed in Tiananmen Square for days, and the students who had brought them there. Tears were shed upon the unit’s departure prior to the events of June 4, names and addresses exchanged.

Military documents prior to the crackdown speak just as loudly. A former Communist Party researcher reported that a petition existed at the time that was aimed at withdrawing troops from Tiananmen Square. It was signed by seven senior Chinese military officers, and sported language of service to the people: “The people’s military belongs to the people and cannot oppose the people.”

These stories tell a tale of Chinese soldiers largely unwilling to fire on a Chinese civilian population. They tell a story of Chinese government pressure met with Chinese military hesitance. But they are stories only rising to common knowledge outside of China.

A lot has changed for China in the 25 years since the crackdown: diplomatic isolation ended, China hosted the Olympics and the country made great strides in its space program. 1990 saw China’s first entrance into the stock market. Where products were hard to find for Chinese consumers before, they are now in abundance, and Chinese college graduates now compete for jobs they want instead of leaving college to be assigned a workplace.

The sensitive commemoration of Tiananmen Square, though, remains largely static. This year, celebrations included playing cards, show tunes and confetti.

The events are a representation of political activism buried. Activist groups make attempts each year to pay respect to those killed in the crackdown and call attention to the real events of the Tiananmen Square protests, like the stories of Maj. Gen. Xu that find life outside, but not inside, China. These attempts have yet to succeed.

This is not stopping anyone from trying to get the voices of the past heard. One activist group created a website this year called backtotiananmen.com. It asked simply for people to come to the square, gather and sing or hum a well-known song from the musical Les Miserables: “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Wen Yunchao, one of the organizers of backtotiananmen.com, pointed out that simply coming to join the group, even without singing, would be a powerful way to commemorate those killed 25 years earlier.

Wen organized the group from New York City, spreading publicity by editing a leaked pornographic video to spread the message to gather and sing. While censored immediately, the video, Wen reported, was still downloaded thousands of times.

Another suggestion for activism was tossing white paper from the skyscrapers of Beijing in the hope that, perhaps, these small, raining scraps would remind China of the lives lost at Tiananmen Square many years ago now. Whatever the method, attempts at remembrance and knowledge are alive and well.

– Rachel Davis

Sources: The Economist, LA Times, New York Times, Reuters
Photo: CNN World