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History & Background

The Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the largest nation in mainland Southeast Asia. With a territory of 262,000 square miles and a population of approximately 50 million people, it is located between the two most populous nations in the world—China and India.

Myanmar's society and culture have been greatly influenced by China and India. As an independent nation since January 1948, Myanmar has been passing through various military rules and a series of democratization movements. Its education system, as is the case in other Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia, is based on the model of rural monasteries where the Sayadaws (abbots) teach the basic three Rs, as well as handicrafts, to people of all ages.

A fascinating, longtime continuity of monastic learning and modern education makes Myanmar one of the most literate countries in the region. With an approximately 80 percent literacy rate, Myanmar, despite many militaristically created setbacks, rightfully claims to be an educational leader among many economically disadvantaged Third World countries.

Myanmar has been an active partner in the UNESCO-led movement of "Education for All," known as EFA2000. Education in Myanmar (then Burma) until 1948 was colonial, widely criticized by the leaders of independence movement. The Education Reconstruction Committee Report of 1947 included a wide array of school reforms such as bilingual curricula, vocational training, and health education. During the 1948-1962 post-independence period, the government of Burma announced a statement of educational policy that included free education in state schools; the use of Burmese as a medium of instruction while allowing English at the college level; and the creation of new textbooks that highlighted the spirit of nationalism.

Under military rule (1962-1988) the Burmese educational system became highly centralized. General Ne Win's Government used the schools as a tool of political indoctrination. While the military rulers emphasized science and technology, school and college curricula were controlled and teachers were not able to teach in a free atmosphere. Once an economically as well as educationally leading country in South East Asia, Burma was granted a status of "Least Developed Country" by the United Nations in 1987. In 1989 Burma adopted a nationalistic new name, Myanmar.

Finally, during 1988-2000, known as a period of "democratization under the military control," the educational system in Myanmar has remained chaotic. In the first free, multiparty elections, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a decisive victory, but the Military refused to give up its authority. Ms. Kyi, a highly popular, democratic leader was held under house arrest. Numerous students and teachers who led the democratization movement were silenced or jailed, and many colleges and universities were periodically shut down.

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