Tech Schools Reopen in Rangoon and Mandalay

By Lawi Weng 15 August 2012

Institutes of Technology will reopen in Burma’s two biggest cities of Rangoon and Mandalay after being closed by the junta government 24 years ago.

The state-run Myanma Alin newspaper reported on Sunday that the Institute of Technology in Rangoon will accept 250 students this year while the Mandalay school will accept 50.

The government will release application forms around the second week of September with prospective students requiring 450 marks at their grand ten university entrance exam to be accepted.

Nyi Hla Nge, the former head of civil engineering at Rangoon Institute of Technology, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that additional help will be provided from institutions in the United States, Australia, Japan and Thailand.

“Foreign universities have come and talked to us already about it,” he said. “Our glory days will come back soon.”

Ko Ko, a former student at Rangoon Institute of Technology, said, “I am very glad to hear that it will reopen as we are currently worried about our education system.”

Rangoon Institute of Technology was an especially renowned institute which once offered some of the best education in Southeast Asia. But its reputation faded after the military regime closed all universities and colleges in Burma in 1996, with a few allowed to reopen in 1999.

Burmese academics have long criticized the military junta for not wanting students to be educated as they would learn to oppose the regime.

Thein Htut, a computer engineer in Mandalay who studied at the city’s Institute of Technology, said, “We could especially see that the regime did not want students to be educated after the 1988 students uprising.”

He added that he welcomes the recent announcement that the institutes would be accepting students again. “It is better to do something than nothing. But it might take more time to develop model education,” said Thein Htut.

“Anyway, this is just the first step. We might have to work hard to meet international standards of education, especially for capacity-building training to current teachers so they can teach the students properly.”

Science and Technology Minister Aye Myint hosted a meeting with teachers from the two institutes in Naypyidaw on Monday and said that the government would initially open these universities before others as both still had good infrastructure.

Although universities in Burma may struggle to reach international standards at first, it was hoped they could compare favorably with similar institutions in Asean in the next five years, according to a statement.

“The age of model education for engineering in the country will restart again,” said Ko Ko. “It is good that we get back our former decent education because we thought we had lost it. But we need to work hard in order to produce benefits from this.”

Burmese academics said they crave a learning environment like the past when visiting professors from Russia and other foreign countries would be invited to teach students, and a lot of top class engineers were produced in the country.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed with Thailand to promote educational cooperation and students hope that this first step will help boost the skills of Burmese teachers.

The curriculum at the two institutes will be based on international standards, according to the government statement, with students taking six years to earn a degree. Professors will be former university teachers and even Burmese academics who studied abroad.

On Aug. 1, MPs from Burma’s Lower House of Parliament discussed the issue of university education in the country. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said she wanted free university education out of government control to promote diversity and unfettered learning.

There are currently around 170 universities in Burma which come under the control of the Ministries of Education, Health or Science and Technology, depending on the subjects taught. The Burmese schools system suffered greatly under the former military junta.