Myanmar has borders with Laos and Thailand in the east, China in the north, and Bangladesh and India in the west. It covers a total area of 678,500 km2 and has a long coastline of about 2,300 kilometers in the west and south along the Bay of Bengal. the land is Mountainous and half of the country if covered by forests. The lower half of the country is basically flat with several valleys and some hills. The northern part on the other hand is has several mountain ranges starting with the eastern outliers of the Himalayan mountain range and paralleled by two other mountain ranges.
Myanmar's population is estimated to be around 53 million in 2006 and has fourteen states which inhabit 135 ethnic groups. The female and male population are almost equal. About one third of the population is under 15 years. Over 60 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture as its economy is largely undeveloped. Only about 10 percent is working in the industrial sector, another 10 percent in various productive sectors, about 5 percent in the services sector and around 10 percent in the trade sector its main products being valuable stones and also opium.
Myanmar was founded in the 11th century by king Anawrahta in Bagan. Its empire included parts of Thailand and present Myanmar and lasted for two centuries. During the 16th century the second Myanmar empire was founded by king Bayinnaung. In 1885 Myanmar became a British colony. During the second world War Myanmar was occupied by the Japanese for three years but finally became a sovereign independent state on the 4th January 1948. Its independence was followed by many political struggles that would continue until today including the 1988 uprising resulting in 3000 deaths and the house arrest of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi daughter of assassinated independence hero Bogyoke Aung San. For more information please look for other sources.
Myanmar offers free and compulsory primary education which student should take for five years. Gross Enrollment Rate (GER) of primary in 2005 is 113% and Net Enrollment Rate (NER) of primary in 2005 is 99%. Although Universal Primary Education (UPE) seems to be achieved in Myanmar, survival rate to grade 5 in 2004 is 70%. It means many students drop out from school partly because rote learning is emphasized in primary schools. Adult literacy rate (more than 15 years old) in 2000 is 91.7% (Male→93.9%, Female→86.4%).
Distance Education in Myanmar
Most of the data regarding education in Myanmar is difficult to verify. The government has a tight grip on the information leaving the country and the information coming into the country. Foreign aid is largely restricted because of the prevailing political climate limiting the use of international assistance regarding the development and implementation of ICT. Recently, the government has formed a Myanmar e-National Task Force to promote ICT, which is in accordance with e-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Framework Agreement. To promote the private sector ICT development the government has formed the Myanmar Information and Technology Park in 2001link title.
Although ICT access and use is low in Myanmar (telephone density is one of the lowest in the world with estimates varying from 0.6% to 0.8% and an estimated total number of 50.000 PCs in the country) Distance education started in the 1970s. There were many people who couldn't afford education and as a consequence the government established the first distance education programs. Communication went through the use of email and was therefore called 'mail' education. The first courses were made for teachers at the Institute of Education. Anno 2008 there are two universities that provide distance education programs. The southern part of the country is being served by the Yangon University of Distance Education, while the Mandalay University of Distance Education provides programs for the Northern half of the country. The tools used in their programs are radio lessons, cassettes, TV programs and lessons through e-education learning centres (Bangkok, 2005).
The Ministry of Education has set up multi media classrooms in at least 400 schools, including primary, middle and high school. The new multimedia classrooms include print and electronic media, computers and language laboratories. Further initiative include the use of satellite communication and an electronic data broadcasting system that will be able to communicate information to the over 500 e-education learning centres that offer language training and undergraduate studies. Although several E-learning centres, e-resource centres and computer training centres have also been set up at several institutes of higher education, it is not clear whether overlap exists in the multimedia, e-education and e-learning centre initiatives link title
To meet the needs of local communities the government is using Community Learning Centres (CLC's) to provide non-formal education which includes various levels of literacy training. Tools used by the CLC's are video, puppet shows and various printed materials.
To provide the public with better opportunities two New Century Resource Centers (NCRCs) have been established in the North and the South. These NCRCs include computer training rooms, language laboratories, e-learning centres and e-education resource facilities. Courses offered at the centres include computerised accounting, Windows 2000, software engineering, network engineering, hardware engineering, a postgraduate diploma in multimedia arts and a diploma in information technologies. Educational tools used are video, audiotapes and compact discs.
Two main universities
At the moment there are two main Universities offering programs in distance education. These are Yangon University of Distance Education and Mandalay University of Distance Education. Distance education courses were offered for the first time during the academic year 1973/1974. In the academic year 1981/1982 various correspondence courses were offered for the first time at Yangon University. At the beginning of each academic year, course books were given out to all registered students, and every student was required to complete 16 assignments for each course for the respective academic year. The assignments were sent to the students by mail according to the academic calendar and the students returned them back after completing the tasks. These were then marked by the respective teaching staff often with additional remarks and mailed back to the students. Towards the end of the academic year, the students were required to attend certain intensive classroom instructions for about two weeks at their respective institutions, after which they had to sit for the examinations. The available subjects were Arts, Science, Law and Economics. In 1992 the government established the University of Distance Education in Yangon (UDE) with the motto "No Education That Far" (rough translation). It now has around 400.000 undergraduate and masters students. Mandalay University started offering distance education courses during the academic year 1978/1979. From the year 1991 lectures were also broadcasted using Myanmar Athan (MTRD).
The objectives of the University of Distance Education are:
1) to make higher education accessible to all students at minimal cost and without having to leave their homes or jobs.
2) to offer courses of higher education to all within the country including those residing in border areas.
3) to ensure a high standard of tertiary education to be at par with courses offered at other institutions.
4) to produce through a higher education program, qualified citizens who will be able to serve better in the interest of the state and to equip them with the ability to carry out effectively all tasks given them by the state.
The overall objective is to bring about improvement in the quality, efficiency and equity of the Myanmar education system, especially with the introduction of UDE to promote human resource development and to strengthen its contribution towards the social and economic development. In particular, it is aimed at promoting and strengthening educational facilities required for sustainable accessibility and improvement in the field of distance education.
According to the South East Asian ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) 'at present two-hour radio lessons are being broadcast everyday and six TV lessons lasting (15) minutes each are also being broadcast weekly. Radio and TV lesson broadcasts are usually repeated as the academic year nears its end and the final examinations approach. Lectures and print based materials are prepared by the staff members of the respective departments of the UDE. Since the UDE now has its own recording studio, faculty members are now in a position to produce radio lessons more efficiently without wasting commuting time. At present TV lessons are being recorded at the television studio of Myanmar Education Research Bureau, which is also under the Ministry of Education. Radio and TV lessons are eventually transmitted and televised by Myanmar Radio and Television Department (MRTD). At present the UDE is trying its utmost to establish a TV Studio on campus in a few months time. Such an endeavor will certainly boost the quality as well as the quantity of TV lesson-production of UDE.'
In 2000 there were 19 possible subject to choose from including Myanmar, English, History, Geography, Philosophy, Psychology, Oriental Study, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Botany, Zoology, Economics, Law, Myanmar studies, Publis Policy, Home Economics, Creative Writing and Business Management. The main focus in all of the courses is on the specific textbooks, study guides and model questions and answers. In most case they are linked to for example radio lessons and television programs.
Impact of distance education
Although various positive initiatives are mentioned by the government, the actual implementation and its impact remain to be seen. The information shared by the Junta is highly subjective and its truthfulness is therefore highly questionable and difficult to verify. According to local sources most distance education programs are hardly effective at all. Due to the restrictions on Internet use, imposed by the government, students are not able to browse the Internet freely. Furthermore, these restrictions also lead to a limited amount of Internet access points. Especially outside the cities. Altogether this makes it difficult to give an up to date analysis of the situation in Myanmar. Programs in distance education that have no political content or relevance will probably benefit most of the learning centres that are in use. One can think of the programs in Botany, Mathematics and Zoology. For the other programs, the contents studied by the learners or the content provided by the institution will be quite limited. This raises vital issue about distance education and also education in general, namely the political environment in which programs are set up. The political environment serious limits the educational possibilities for potential learners. If Myanmar wishes to catch up with its neighbours there has to be an open educational environment in which a free and unlimited exchange of ideas is processed, implemented and evaluated.
Areas for improvement
The UDE has a Department of Research and Developmentis (DRD) which is especially concerned with the improvement of distance teaching and student learning through course design, evaluation and research and introduction of new technology. The DRD maintains an appropriate knowledge base, 'which it seeks to extend and promote to identify educational issues with important future implications that will serve as a guide for possible educational planning commensurate with National Development Plan (SEUMEO).' It recognizs the importance of continuous staff training to equip them with the necessary amount of research menthodology and stimulates them to update research design regularly. According to SEUMEO, every academi year there are new research studies, inquiries into the effectiveness of student learning with the use of different media. Based on the results reviews and changes are carried out.
Lack of infrastructure
Myanmar ranks as one of the lowest among the ASEAN countries regarding e-infrastructure, e-society, e-commerce and e-government (ASEAN readiness Assessment, 2001). For this reason it is called an 'emerging' readiness country.
Lack of financial resources for ICT education
According to the UNDP 2003 Human Development Index it ranks 131st out of 175 countries, making it one of the least developed countries in the world. With a GDP of about $1,027, which is slightly inflated due to the wealth of a small group of people, its financial resources are scarce. Furthermore, the country has been cut of from aid by donor countries because of dissatisfaction with its government's progress on its road to democracy. The money it does is largely spent on the military. to give an example, public spending on the military is about five times as high as spending on education.
Limited access to and awareness of ICT
The UNDP human Development Indicators (2003) shows that there are less than 10.000 Internet user. Considering its 53.000.000 inhabitants this is an extremely low ratio. The main reason for this are the government's restrictions on Internet use. Instead of using the World Wide Web (WWW), reportedly the government only allows access to the Myanmar Wide Web (MWW), which functions a a national Intranet. Also its is said that the government monitors email traffic and checks websites content. Only the websites that have been approved by the government are accessible and therefore available for educational purposes.
- Moore, M.G. & Kearsley, G. (2005). Distance Education: A Systems View. 2nd ed., Wadsworth Publishing.