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Myanmar Education Facts


School education in Myanmar is free of charge for everyone where it is available, which is the case in all cities but not always in the countryside. According to the UN agency Unesco, over nine out of ten adult Myanmarians can read and write. However, almost a third of the residents can only handle the simplest reading and writing tasks.

The children can start in preschool at the age of four. Compulsory compulsory education covers five years and starts at the age of five. Then follows a four-year middle school and a two-year high school. Virtually all children begin elementary school or attend Buddhist monastic schools, but only over half of a year’s class continues in middle school.

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After colonial times Myanmar had a comparatively high level of education for a long time, and literacy was high. The universities of Rangoon and Mandalay have traditionally been the foremost. When the military took power in the 1960s, the standard of education dropped slowly but surely, with a marked deterioration at all levels from the mid-1990s. For several years, the regime has spent just over 1 percent of GDP on education.

During the gradual democratization in the 2010s, governments have shown higher ambitions and education’s share of GDP has risen. The democratically elected NLD government spent more than 6 percent of the state budget 2016/2017 on education.

There are a number of private schools. Some charge high forward fees while others are run through charity. Partly with foreign aid, in recent years several new private schools have been started.

The larger universities in Rangoon and Mandalay were closed almost entirely in 1996 after student revolts. Only doctoral studies are allowed. The universities were only reopened in 2013.

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Proportion of children starting primary school

97.7 percent (2017)

Number of pupils per teacher in primary school

23 (2017)

Reading and writing skills

75.6 percent (2016)

Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP

10.2 percent (2017)

Public expenditure on education as a percentage of the state budget

10.2 percent (2017)



Continued battles in the north

The fighting in the north between the government army and the rebel groups Shan State’s Army North and Kachin’s independent army continues without being affected by the NLD’s election victory. None of these groups signed the ceasefire agreement in October.

NLD wins a landslide victory

The election results show that NLD has won 255 of the 330 electable seats in the House of Representatives (the lower house). USDP has received 30 seats and the regional parties of Arakan National Party (ANP) and the Shan Nationalities Alliance for Democracy (SNLD) have won 12 seats each. In the National Assembly (upper house), NLD receives 135 out of 168 eligible seats, while USDP receives 12 seats, ANP 10 and SNLD 3 seats. Thus, the NLD gets an absolute majority in parliament and can independently elect the country’s next president. President Thein Sein congratulates Aung San Suu Kyi for the election victory and USDP admits defeat. The army chief says the military will cooperate with the country’s next government.

High voter turnout on a quiet election day

The election is held on the exposed day under calm conditions and with a large safety offer. The turnout is high; According to the Election Commission, it is around 80 percent. International election observers state that the electoral process has largely been free and fair, with relatively few irregularities. However, the fact that hundreds of thousands of residents, mainly Rohingya, are not allowed to vote casts a shadow over the election.

Suu Kyi’s “superior president” if NLD wins

Aung San Suu Kyi says she will lead the country’s government if the NLD wins the election, even if she is not allowed to become president. She says she will be “the superior president”. The NLD leader criticizes the electoral process which she believes was not free and fair and that the Election Commission has not dealt with the irregularities that have arisen.

Muslim hostile electoral rhetoric

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expresses deep concern over the Muslim hostile rhetoric used by some people in the electoral movement. According to analysts, many Muslims, including Rohingya, are stopped from voting in advance.


Armistice is entered into with guerrilla groups

15 October

Eight of the 17 rebel groups that have negotiated a ceasefire with the government sign an agreement. Nine groups reject the cease-fire agreement. Among these are the most active resistance groups, such as the United States Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO), whose militia faction KIA controls a large part of Kachin in the Northeast. Information comes about continued fighting there.


The electoral movement begins

The electoral movement before the parliamentary elections begins. Around 90 parties stand for candidates, and about 30 million inhabitants are eligible to vote. The election applies to the electable seats in both the National Assembly and the National Assembly. After the election, the two chambers will together elect a new president.


More difficult to convert from Buddhism

Parliament adopts new contentious religious laws, proposed by Buddhist nationalists (see July 2015). This time there are restrictions on the possibility of converting from Buddhism to another religion. Criticism of the laws warns that the ultranationalist laws may lead to increased intolerance against religious minorities.

The USDP leader is dismissed

President Thein Sein dismisses his chief political rival in the USDP, Shwe Mann, who is also the Speaker of Parliament, from the party leader post. Shwe Mann is removed from the USDP’s headquarters by security guards. He is known to exert great influence over the more conservative forces within the military and USDP. The president’s action exposes a power struggle within the USDP top tier that has been fought ever since 2010. Provision is made only a few months before the election is held and shortly before the presidential candidates are announced.

Floods hit a million

Irrawaddy water levels rise sharply during the monsoon season and large areas are flooded. Some areas of the river delta are isolated because of the water masses. President Thein Sein urges people to leave the risk areas. In the middle of the month, more than 100 people were killed in the floods and almost one million inhabitants have been affected by them in some way.


Difficult to marry across religious boundaries

Parliament adopts a law (called the Law on Marriage for Buddhist Women), which imposes a number of restrictions on marriage between Buddhist women and men of another religion; Among other things, these couples must apply for marriage permits from local authorities. If they do not, they can be sentenced to two years in prison. A law on child restraint was passed in May. Similar laws are initiated by influential Buddhist monks with a conservative and nationalist agenda.

Thousands of prisoners are released

The government releases 6,966 prisoners in a mass amnesty for “humanitarian reasons”. Among the released prisoners are 210 foreign nationals, including the recently arrested Chinese forest workers. It is unclear if there are any political prisoners among the released.

Lifetime prison for deforestation

A court in the northern Kachin state sentenced 153 Chinese citizens to life imprisonment for illegally harvesting rainforests. China is upset with the judges, which it believes are too harsh, and lodges a diplomatic protest with Myanmar.

Journalists are fined

A court in the country fined two journalists ($ 800 in fines each) for defaming President Thein Sein. The charge was brought by the Ministry of Information and concerns a newspaper article published in November 2014 in which both journalists criticize the president for being unclear as to whether he will stand for re-election or not. Human rights groups claim the verdict is part of the regime’s scare campaign against media ahead of the November elections.

Election day nailed

The government announces general elections until November 8.


The Kokang guerrillas face a ceasefire

The Kokang guerrilla MNDAA announces a unilateral ceasefire. Assessors believe the decision comes after negotiations with China.

Suu Kyi visits China

China’s ruling Communist Party invites Aung San Suu Kyi to China for the first time, where it meets, among others, President Xi Jinping. The invitation is interpreted by analysts as China expects that the NLD will win the autumn election and that China therefore wants to position itself ahead of the impending change of power. China is likely to secure access to Myanmar’s natural resources and ports on the Indian Ocean.


Boat refugee crisis deepens

The boat refugee crisis going on in the sea outside Myanmar’s coast is getting worse. Thousands of refugees, many of whom are Rohingy, get stuck in boats out at sea during severe hardships. The reason is that Thailand has launched a strike against refugee smugglers and that refugees on their way from Bangladesh or Myanmar to Indonesia and Malaysia are denied access to the countries of the region. Following international pressure from, among others, the UN, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand’s foreign ministers meet in Kuala Lumpur to do something about the crisis. Indonesia and Malaysia promise to provide 7,000 refugees with temporary protection, while Thailand refuses to sign the agreement. Myanmar reluctantly agrees to contribute to the resolution of the crisis. As a result of the pressure, the Myanmar navy performs its first rescue operation as they tow a boat with around 200 refugees into land near the border with Bangladesh.


Continued student demonstrations

The protests among the university students continue with unabated strength (see January 2015). When they carry out a sit-down strike for several days in the city of Letpadan, the police enter and interrupt the campaign, among other things, they use batons. The students are demonstrating against a new law which they consider to restrict academic freedom.

Tense location between China and Myanmar

Representatives of Myanmar and China meet to discuss how to improve the tense situation in Kokang. China emphasizes the importance of the tens of thousands of refugees from neighboring countries returning home. The conflict leads to increased tensions between Myanmar and China, when Chinese nationals are killed by mistake in a Myanmar air strike. At the end of the month, more than 200 combatants were killed as well as an unknown number of civilians.


Hard fighting in Shan State

The toughest fighting in at least two years is erupting in Shan State in the northeast between government forces and the Kokang rebels Myanmar’s National Democratic Alliance and Army (MNDAA). After a couple of three weeks of fighting, state media reports that more than 130 combatants have been killed. The violence flares up when one of the rebel leaders, Phone Kya Shin, returns from five years of exile in China and launches assaults on army posts. This is happening at the same time as the government is trying to agree on a ceasefire with the country’s various ethnic rebel groups. Tens of thousands of people are reported to flee across the border to China ahead of the fighting. Combat aircraft are also used by the military.

Warning for backlash in democratization

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warns of setbacks in the reform process. He criticizes Myanmar’s government for its way of dealing with ethnic minorities, in particular Rohingya, and for increased restrictions on media freedom. Zeid provides, for example, that regime critics have been imprisoned and that peaceful demonstrations are being squandered.

UN criticism for discrimination against Rohingya

The UN special envoy to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, criticizes the country for discrimination against the Muslim people group Rohingya. She also addresses legislative proposals initiated by nationalist monks to limit the possibility of marrying people of different religions and to convert. A high ranking nationalist monk and Buddhist leader calls the UN envoy “sly” and “whore”. The government accuses Lee of interfering with the country’s internal affairs and not looking at the positive aspects of the democracy process.

Rohingy may not participate in referendum

President Thein Sein persuades Parliament to give people with a so-called white card (a kind of temporary ID card) the right to participate in a referendum on a new constitution in May. The white cards were distributed by the junta to the country’s roughly 1.5 million Rohingyas so that they could vote in the general election in 2010. The Rohingyas are considered by the state as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants without citizenship and voting rights. Later that month, the president withdraws the decision to grant temporary voting rights to Rohingya. Hundreds of Buddhists have been walking the streets in protest. The validity of the white cards expires in March.


Student protests without permission

Hundreds of university students, without permission from the authorities, launch a protest march from Mandalay to Rangoon. The protest concerns academic freedom at higher education institutions; the students feel that the central authorities’ control over the universities must be reduced, that students and teachers must be able to more easily form interest organizations and unions, and more. The students also demand that the government spend more money on higher education. The police are watching the march closely.

Offensive against Kachinrebeller

The army goes on offensive against Kachinrebeller in the north since the insurgents kidnapped the local transport minister and three police officers.

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