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Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Myanmar
Myanmar is currently in the middle of a challenging transition to democracy amid ongoing human rights violations. With 32 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Myanmar is considered one of the most underdeveloped countries in Southeast Asia. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Myanmar.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Myanmar

  1. Energy. As of 2017, over 25 percent of all households in Myanmar use solar energy to power their homes. From 2015 to 2017 the number of households with electricity access — solar and otherwise — increased by 1.1 million, which accounts for about 2 percent of the population. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, to this day, more than 60 percent of households in villages are still not connected to the public grid.
  2. Water. Most areas of Myanmar have abundant rainfall, but some residents still need to transport water from the source to where they live, increasing the risk of contamination. In the Rakhine state, the floods from the 2015 cyclone have damaged access to clean water for 78 percent of villages. However, efforts by PLAN International to clean ponds and build rainwater catchment systems are underway to provide relief.
  3. Education. Literacy rates in Myanmar are now promisingly high at 80 to 90 percent depending on the state. The gender gaps in literacy have also closed and high school enrollment rates have doubled over the last decade. In the same time period, middle school enrollment rates have also risen 20 percent.
  4. Employment. The number of people working in Myanmar has been on the rise, as well as the percentage of households earning income from non-agricultural work. In particular, the number of women employed in Myanmar has increased by over 5 percent in the last decade.
  5. Housing. Housing materials vary greatly due to accessibility to resources, geographic and socioeconomic reasons. According to the World Bank, “eight in 10 households had a quality roof in 2017, compared to four in ten in 2005.” Newly found accessibility to quality roofing materials like corrugated iron has lead to this increase.
  6. Freedom of Expression. When Myanmar’s newly elected government, the National League for Democracy (NLD), took office in 2016 hopes were high for long-awaited law reform. However, under the NLD freedom of expression is still being regularly repressed and restricted with large numbers of peaceful activists, critics and journalists being prosecuted.
  7. Technology. Smartphones have seen the most rapid growth of any consumer good in the past decade and are the most commonly used technology in Myanmar. The majority of households in Myanmar do not own or use a computer, with 10.9 percent being by far the highest ownership rate (in the city of Yangon).
  8. Sanitation. When it comes to sanitation there are again large differences between rural and city areas when it comes to accessibility. For example, only half of all homes in Rakhine have a toilet whereas, in the rest of the country, 94 percent of people have a toilet in their home. PLAN International helps by providing basic sanitation needs and teaching the importance of things like washing hands to stop the spread of diseases.
  9. Refugees. Since 2017, mass killings of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine have forced over 900,000 Rohingya to flee human rights violations. However, these refugees are now trapped in refugee camps in Bangladesh facing monsoons and flooding seasonally. Out of all Rohingya refugees, 55 percent are children. Due to intensely cramped living conditions, diseases spread rapidly and sanitation facilities are lacking. Sexual violence also remains to be a pressing issue in the camps, in addition to psychosocial suffering. U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations are providing assistance with food, water and shelter. Additionally, organizations provide psychosocial aid, health and sanitation services when possible.
  10. Child Protection. Due to economic problems and violent government instability, there are currently over 460,000 children in need of humanitarian assistance. Organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children are working to provide psychosocial support as well as other nutrition, and sanitation based support to thousands of children. UNICEF’s WASH team is working to provide clean water, access to toilets as well as promoting the importance of handwashing in order to help with basic health and sanitation needs. Access to these three aspects (clean water, toilets and hygiene services) all together help support one another to alleviate the risk of disease in struggling areas.

The current situation in Myanmar is very complicated and clearly presents some challenges to mend the gaps between living conditions in rural versus city areas.

Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Myanmar
Myanmar, a small Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, is one of the three poorest countries in Asia. In the text below, top 10 facts about poverty in Myanmar are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Myanmar

  1. More than 32 percent of the Myanmar population live below the poverty line, according to a study conducted by the World Bank. In 2010, the national poverty line was measured at 19.4 percent. Compared to its neighbor, Cambodia, whose rates stand at 14.0 percent, there is still a long way to go towards the goal of eradicating large-scale poverty in Myanmar.
  2. Between 66 and 70 percent of the Myanmar population live in rural areas and depends heavily on low-tech fishing and farming largely for subsistence. This exacerbates the gap between the urban and the rural, with the U.N. stating that rural poverty is twice as high as in urban areas. The government mostly invests in extractive industries such as gas, oil and hydroelectric power rather than focusing on agricultural needs.
  3. Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, Myanmar had the lowest adult life expectancy at 66.04 years in 2015, according to the data that the World Health Organization (WHO) published. The breakdown between males to females show that women have a slightly better average life expectancy rate at 69 years compared to 65 years for men.
  4. Myanmar also has the second highest child mortality rate in the region, since 6.2 out of 100 children die before they turn one year and more than 7 percent die before they reach their fifth birthday. In 2014, the government spent only 3 percent of its GDP on health. In comparison, 13 percent of GDP was spent on defense.
  5. Many people in the country, particularly in rural areas, do not have access to basic infrastructure and services. Two-thirds of the population do not have electricity and there is a low road density at 219.8 kilometers per 1000 square kilometers. Poverty in Myanmar cannot be eliminated if a large portion of the population has no access to rudimentary technology that can be used to conduct transactions and access transport.
  6. Myanmar’s attempts to control the AIDS epidemic among the working population have largely been successful. The figures currently stand at less than 1 percent infected, according to the United Nations. On May 17, 2017, The Ministry of Health and Sports launched its latest five year HIV plan, called “90-90-90.” It has a goal that 90 percent of HIV positive people know their status, 90 percent of those aware of their status receive treatment and 90 percent of those living with HIV have suppressed viral loads.
  7. With the World Bank’s National Electrification Project, around 1.2 million people who live in rural areas have either new or better access to electricity. This affects 140,000 households and introduces community-based solar electricity systems to combat poverty in Myanmar.
  8. Tuberculosis (TB) incidence has decreased dramatically since 1995 and the goal of reducing TB mortality rates below 50 percent set in 1990 was achieved by 2010. The death rate from TB fell by more than 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.
  9. Poverty in Myanmar has been on the decline, decreasing from 44.5 percent in 2004 to 26.1 percent in 2015, according to the World Bank. Rural and urban poverty have both been decreasing, although at a faster rate for the urban dwellers. Consumer purchases of motorcycles, indicating greater disposable income, has increased to over 42 percent of households in 2015, from 10 percent in 2009.
  10. The government has made plans to spend more on education, and under the National Sector Education Plan, spending increased from $251.8 million in 2013 to $1.2 billion in 2o17. The government has also planned to use a 5 percent tax on mobile phones for education, which will allow the government to hire a larger number of teachers and improve access to free education.

In conclusion, although Myanmar has made significant strides in the process of eradicating poverty, it still has a long way to go before achieving parity with other developed and even developing nations in the region.

– Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ education in Myanmar
The education of girls and women has been found to be of paramount importance for the success of individuals, communities and nations, leading to increased efforts to improve girls’ education in Myanmar, among other countries. Women who receive a higher level of education generally receive higher pay and tend to have fewer health problems. Additionally, education increases job opportunities for women, positively impacting them as well as employers.

Pressures of Poverty Hurt Girls’ Access to Education

In Myanmar, however, many girls (and boys) do not complete their education, with many students dropping out once they reach high school. During the 2009-2010 school year, 42 percent of boys and 44 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 15 were no longer attending school.

One of the main reasons students leave school is because their parents can no longer afford it. According to UNESCO, public schools in Myanmar do not charge tuition fees, but “hidden costs, such as school supplies and transportation, make them unaffordable for many.” If parents can only afford to send a few of their children to school, girls are more likely to stay at home.

In addition to being less able to afford school, poorer families are more likely to see “work as a better long-term option for their children,” particularly if the school is not providing high-quality education, according to a UNICEF report. They may also need their children to work in order to help support the family. During the 2009-2010 school year, 85.5 percent of children from the richest households attended secondary school, while only 28.2 percent from the poorest households did.

Furthermore, lack of interest has been found to be a common reason for not completing secondary education. This could be due to quality-related issues if parents believe that the school curriculum is not preparing their child for future employment. It could also reflect incidents, including bullying and gender-based violence, that children (girls in particular) drop out of school to avoid.

Focus on Girls’ Education in Myanmar Sees Great Success

While these are continuing problems that make advancing girls’ education in Myanmar difficult, some significant improvements have been made, most notably in achieving gender parity in enrollment in primary, middle and high school. By 2010, girls comprised approximately 50 percent of students at each level.

Additionally, according to a U.N. report, girls who were able to complete high school and take the Matriculation Exam, which is “both a high school completion exam and a university screening exam,” passed at higher rates than their male counterparts. In 2012, 55 percent of exam takers and 58 percent of students who passed the exam were female.

Even more striking is the significantly greater enrollment of women in higher education institutions in Myanmar. In 2012, 59 percent of undergraduate students, 80 percent of master’s degree students and 81 percent of Ph.D. students were female.

There are a few explanations for this phenomenon. First, boys have a greater likelihood of being employed immediately out of high school, and therefore may not feel the need to enroll in higher education. Second, more girls than boys become teachers, a profession for which higher education is required. They are also more likely to become professors; in 2012, 82.6 percent of higher education academic staff members were women.

As girls who are able to receive a good education are becoming academically successful and enrolling in undergraduate and graduate programs, the next steps in Myanmar are to improve girls’ access to education and ensure their education is high quality. Ideally, the number of women who are passing the Matriculation Exam and attending higher education institutions will then continue to increase as well.

Girls’ education in Myanmar is a continuing priority for the nation’s leaders and United Nations organizations, including UNICEF, which has been active in Myanmar for more than 60 years and plans to continue working to bring education to all children in the nation.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

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


teaching_in_myanmarReading about the conditions people around the world live in and hearing about their hardships simply cannot compare to a full immersion in the culture of another country.

Corbin Dickson, who was born and raised in Colorado, is currently teaching in Myanmar at the Myanmar International School in Yangon, Myanmar. He offered some insight into his experiences abroad in Myanmar (known previously as Burma.)

When asked about the impact he thinks education has on poverty levels, he says that it’s hard to say. Often, the only families who can afford an education are already wealthy, he says.

But he does mention the correlation between rapid economic development and the introduction of new schools. He is confident that new institutions, such as the one he teaches at, will ultimately have a positive effect on individuals, “especially since they are far more equipped to prepare and inspire students towards higher education abroad.”

Although the school he teaches at is attended primarily by upper-middle class or wealthy students, conditions are different than in the United States.

He says only one-third of Myanmar residents have access to electricity, and that even though Yangon is an urban area, the power frequently goes out. (To him, the inconvenience of constantly interrupted lessons is something he’s grown used to, though the lack of air conditioning and fans, while it’s usually above 80° F with high humidity is admittedly not.)

And the poorer areas are never far away, he says. “You don’t have to travel far out of Yangon to get to a rural area. Once out in the rural areas, it feels as though you have gone back in time 100 years; farmers still plowing their fields with buffalo, people still living in homes made of woven palm leaves and bamboo.”

Perhaps these people prefer the simplicity of a life lived off the land, rather than the complications of bustling urban life. Dickson says the lack of basic framework can be frustrating, as can the Internet speed (“as slow as dial-up in the early 2000s”), and traffic.

Dickson noted that “Yangon simply doesn’t have the road capacity to handle the influx of cars” that people purchased when the country began opening up in 2011-2012.

One of the biggest cultural differences that Dickson discussed was an obsession with not standing out or making anyone else look bad, what he calls, “saving face.”

“For example,” he says, “if you ask a taxi to take you somewhere and the driver doesn’t know how to get there, they will try to take you anyway, driving around, guessing until they make it. When [me] or my friends try to direct them, they pretend not to hear or act as though their way is better (or worse, say we originally told them something else).”

Dickson says it can be difficult to teach when students are so reluctant to ask questions, and it’s strange to get used to adults who refuse to ask for clarification on something they don’t understand.

With modern life comes all of these little cultural quirks and frustrations, like the sound of honking cars, and worrying about looking bad in front of other people. But one of the things that stands out about Myanmar the most is simply the way that its residents view poverty.

Dickson says that because there is no financial or social support offered by the state, the highly empathetic population takes personal responsibility to help those who need it.

“Despite living close to poverty themselves, Myanmar people dedicate a lot of time and money to helping those in need when they can,” he says.

One of the teacher’s assistants at his school spends her weekends teaching for free at a poor rural school. When there was flooding occurring, students took part in huge fundraising efforts, and many went to offer firsthand aid in the crisis areas.

“The major difference here in Myanmar to the U.S. is that people in Myanmar don’t look down on the poor,” Dickson says. “People simply make no judgments towards the life conditions of others – no accusations of fault or blame for one’s situation.”

And what an inspiring outlook that is. These are people who live in the midst of poverty themselves. People who, by U.S. standards, are suffering from a lack of electricity and basic infrastructure. Yet they are willing to offer a helping hand to anyone who needs it.

Emily Dieckman

Sources: BBC, Myanmar International School, Weather Spark
Photo: Pixabay

myanmarSince the start of last year, the government of Myanmar has taken significant strides in reforming its education system, particularly the tertiary-level schools.

For decades, Myanmar was under military dictatorship. During these times, the military government spent only 1.3 percent of its entire spending on education. Today, the government spends a significant amount more. For instance, during the fiscal year of 2012-2013, the government of Myanmar spent nearly 11 percent of their total spending of $7.13 billion on education. There have been noticeable changes in the government and prioritizing education has been among them.

One of the biggest changes has been the reopening of Yangon University. For 20 years, the Yangon University in Myanmar had been closed off to undergraduate students because the government has discouraged higher education. However, in 2014, the University was reopened to students. A young group of 1,000 new undergraduates have been selected to attend.

This is a historic, significant move made by the government of Myanmar for several reasons:

  • Myanmar can rebuild the damaged reputation of their tertiary leveled schools. A tertiary leveled school refers to institutions of higher education, while primary and secondary school refers to elementary and middle schools. For decades, Myanmar was under the ruling military junta.
  • Myanmar has the opportunity to engage in higher education with the rest of the world. Already, many significant partnerships have been established through the Ministry of Education. From Asia, Thailand’s Thepsatri Rajabhat University and several South Korean universities have offered partnerships. Even from the West, prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins have also created partnerships. However, one of the more significant investments has been through the Japan International Cooperation, where seven Japanese universities are partnering with a initiative that has cost $13.5 million dollars to work with universities to update and expand engineering knowledge in Myanmar.

These could be seen as business opportunities for those schools who have pushed for education. However, there are many benefits for Yangon University to be affiliated with different universities.

  • The university curriculum will not be completely in military control. The students (and future generations) will have space to create their own thoughts. Through the partnerships, the Myanmar universities will have to create curriculums together with the their new partners who have different ideas to offer.
  • Offering Myanmar students an opportunity to study abroad will expose them to completely different cultures that they never would have imagined while being under tight military laws. Having foreign exchange students visiting Myanmar will also allow for opportunity to exchange ideas and therefore enriching potential discourse.
  • Inviting foreign professors to lecture in their halls will further expose them to different perspectives and most importantly, encourage and foster creativity.
  • Academic freedom is still limited in Myanmar. Students cannot freely speak, write or publish materials without repercussions. Foreign influence will not only benefit the students but also the administrators who run these institutions.

There are high hopes for Myanmar as their education system continues to develop and become in sync with the rest of the world of higher education, which will ultimately change their culture and society.

Christina Cho

Sources: University World News, Education Database, Oxford Business Group
Photo: Google Images