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Education research and the Myanmar peace process

12 December 2014

Research helped persuade international donors to invest in the reconstruction of Myanmar's education system, and facilitated the first discussions between ethnic armed groups and the Ministry of Education team leading education reform.


Decades of military rule, economic stagnation and civil strife have exacted a heavy toll on education in Myanmar. Although the government and the country's diverse ethnic groups were involved in peace negotiations by 2012, schools remained hampered by inadequate teaching and chronic underfunding. These problems afflict not only the state sector but the wide range of parallel school systems that the Mon and Karen peoples, and other ethnic groups, have established to provide mother-tongue education for their children. Dr Marie Lall at the UCL Institute of Education worked with an independent consultant, Dr Ashley South, and evaluated the Karen and Mon school systems to identify the most appropriate model for ethnic education provision in a post- civil-war Myanmar.

They found that whilst both communities deserved credit for their commitment to education, in the context of the peace process, it was advisable for Karen educators to rethink their implicitly separatist agenda and follow the more integrated Mon model. They also advocated that donors help the development of a modern and inclusive education system, and that the government support local school systems and be tolerant of mother tongue teaching.

Following the publication of their study in 2012, Lall was invited to meet key ministry officials in Myanmar, as well as to advise the Mon National Education Committee. Lall recommended that workshops be held to bring the government side face to face with representatives of the ethnic school sectors. These workshops took place in 2013, led by Lall, and were seen as a remarkable breakthrough in the struggle to bring together between the government and armed groups.

As a result of her research, the Australian donor agency AusAID awarded her funding to advise its technical programme in Myanmar from 2012. UNICEF indicated its intention to divert additional funding to Mon State in Myanmar, based on Lall's research, with the amount to be determined by an assessment exercise to which Lall is a consultant. UNICEF also hired a mother tongue specialist to assist in the work of the Ministry's education review team.

While the process of education reform in Myanmar is still ongoing, this work has benefits for children belonging to ethnic minorities across the country - numbering about 6 million, or a third of the country's estimated child population. Even before the research recommendations are implemented into teaching, however, Lall's work has made an important contribution to integrating education into the peace process.

We feel that the research is not only informing the education reform process but also helping establish the parameters for the role of education in the peace process - Member, Mon National Education Committee