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Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Myanmar
In an interview with UNICEF Myanmar, one father, living in the impoverished Rakhine state of Myanmar, stated that his main hope for his daughter’s future is that she gets a good education.

Even as considerable progress is made by the government and humanitarian organizations, girls’ education in Myanmar continues to persist as a problem plaguing the millions of girls entrapped in the cycle of poverty. However, this is a problem that can and hopefully will be solved.

In the text below, top 10 facts about girls’ education in Myanmar are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Myanmar

  1. Education is a constitutional guarantee in Myanmar, which is a clear sign of the government’s support for this issue. Thus, any girl who wants to attend school has the legal right to do so.
  2. While schools are technically free from fees, a myriad of hidden costs such as uniforms, supplies and even transportation can prove to be an inhibiting factor in a girl’s ability to attend school. Many girls are forced to help their families in the workforce rather than go to school, earning money and helping immediately instead of investing it in their education.
  3. The majority of girls in Myanmar attend primary school. As USAID survey has shown, 77 percent of girls were reportedly enrolled in primary school in 2000, in comparison to boys at 78 percent. Although there is no gender gap regarding primary school enrollment, there is a gap in secondary school enrollment: most girls drop out, either by choice or the constraints of poverty. This trend is further illustrated by the fact, reported by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, that roughly 1.7 million girls over the age of 15 are illiterate in the country.
  4. Girls’ education in Myanmar is complicated by the fact that there are 135 ethnic minority groups within the country. Thus, inequities exist between the accessibility of education for girls of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, the recent outbreak of violence against the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority has caused 727,000 people to flee to Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh. Given the limited resources in refugee camps, young Rohingya girls face an uphill battle in receiving an education while displaced.
  5. Many young boys in Myanmar have been mobilized as allies in the fight for girls’ education. In interviews conducted by UNESCO Bangkok in partnership with the Myanmar Literary Resource Centre, young boys living in and around the city Yangon were brought to tears discussing the plights their female counterparts face. One boy, Htun, declared, “If girls are happy and have access to basic rights like education, they can find better work, do more and earn more. Everyone will be happier, right?”
  6. Many geographical constraints prevent girls from attending schools. In addressing this issue, within the past three years, the government has started developing an informal education office to aid and support informal education measures, such as religious-based schools or certificate programs. This new office is entitled as the Department of Alternative Education.
  7. UNICEF is one of the largest supporters of informal schools, recognizing the power of girls’ education to combat poverty in some of the poorest states of Myanmar. This organization has built schools and programs around the country. One of the examples is the work in the Yangon region.
  8. Nonprofit organization GirlDetermined has taken an innovative approach by specifically targeting young girls’ potentials as future leaders. By engaging them in workshops all over Myanmar, they are mobilizing a new generation of girls who do not only have the capacity to lead but the belief that they can as well.
  9. Making room for girls in schools ensures they have a safe space, helping prevent sexual assault and harassment. The United Nations Population Fund realized the correlation between these two issues, so on November 25, 2015 (the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women), they launched a campaign across girls’ and women’s centers in Myanmar, posing the question: “Everyone benefits from girls’ education. How have you?”
  10. Educated girls from Myanmar are changing the country. As reported by The Guardian, a group of girls who participated in GirlDetermined’s education and empowerment workshops took their skills to the streets, crafting and publishing a statement on the lack of female representation in Myanmar’s parliament. Their actions created a ripple effect, leading to other women’s groups to call for more women in the country’s politics as well.

Girls’ education in Myanmar sits at the intersection of pressing global issues, namely poverty and sexual assault.

Empowering girls through education will not only improve the futures of the girls themselves but the future of Myanmar’s economic and political standing in the global system as well.

– Miranda Wolford

Photo: Pixabay

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