The Crisis in Education Under Myanmar’s Military Rulers

By NORA 10 February 2023

The military coup in Myanmar has dealt a severe blow to university students, many of whom have rejected the regime’s education system and refused to return to classrooms.

While some have joined anti-regime resistance forces to oust the generals, others switched study paths or even left to find work, bringing an abrupt end to their academic journey.

Aung Myat was a final-year medical student when he boycotted the junta education system and joined the civil disobedience movement (CDM), giving up his ambition to become a doctor. Instead he decided to study web development, lured by the rich job opportunities in Japan and Singapore.

“If the coup had never happened, I would not have had to change my career abruptly,” he said.

The number of students now boycotting education is believed to be high, given that campuses forced to open following the coup lie almost deserted. Though precise figures for striking students are not available, the latest World Bank report on Myanmar’s economy warned that lost months of education will reduce the country’s already low levels of human capital and productive capacity over the long term.

Hnin Mon was a third-year student studying journalism at Yangon’s National Management Degree College before the coup. Now, she is studying Computer Science in Taiwan.

“I had a plan to work in the media, but those dreams were shattered by the coup,” the 23-year-old said.

Many students have also switched from the campus to the workplace. Su Myat, a second-year student who majored in English, is working as a waitress in a restaurant in Yangon.

She said the coup has devastated the lives of young people, who have borne the brunt of junta arrests and atrocities perpetrated against its opponents.

“I don’t want to study under such an oppressive regime. Now, I am working to stand on own my feet because I don’t want to be a burden for my family. I am also studying Japanese to apply for an undergraduate scholarship or to work in Japan,” the 20-year-old said.

NUG education

After forming in 2021, Myanmar’s civilian National Unity Government (NUG) founded an education ministry to provide education from basic to university level for students who boycott the regime.

In October last year, it established the online Myanmar Nway-Oo University, affiliated with the Interim University Council. Each university has its own IUC where CDM teachers and students are trying to provide undergraduate and postgraduate courses plus vocational skills for boycotting students.

MNOU first opened applications for final-year undergraduate students in November 2022. However, it’s still unable to offer a full menu of courses and has to limit the number of students. There are other problems, including insufficient teachers and questions over the credibility of degree certificates issued by the University of Medicine (1)’s IUC, among others.

Some students say the certificates were turned down by universities abroad when they applied for further studies or scholarships.

The former medical student Aung Myat affirms that his friends faced difficulties when the certificates were not recognized by international universities.

“So, I want the NUG to address this matter urgently,” 24-year-old said.

The NUG’s education ministry was not available for immediate comment.

Former journalism student Hnin Mon said she waited to see if the NUG would offer journalism degree courses.

“I learned eventually they couldn’t do so. But I won a full scholarship for computer science from a Taiwan university. So, I changed my major,” she said.

According to CDM teachers, tens of thousands of students across Myanmar who took part in CDM movement are now walking their own paths by boycotting regime education. They also believe that the NUG has an important role in creating opportunities and fulfilling the needs of striking students.

“I am not happy with the current situation [under military rule]. I totally respect the decision of students to change their study path or enter the workplace. I believe they are making the right choices for their future”, said a CDM-associated professor.

Jing Gaung serves as a medical cadet in the anti-regime People’s Defense Force (PDF) from Southern Command. At the same time, he is struggling to open courses for his peers in his role as a member of  Interim Council of National Management Degree College and the president of the college’s student union (SU).

He admitted to facing tough challenges in implementing an online learning platform for CDM students, including insufficient numbers of CDM teachers and difficulties ensuring their security.

“We need more assistance from the NUG to open our courses this June,” the 19-year-old PDF member and SU president said.

In the meantime, he is urging his peers to resist the junta until it is ousted and Myanmar returns to civilian rule.

“The junta has admitted that the situation in the country is abnormal. The resistance forces are stronger than ever. So, I urge CDM students to defy the regime until the end.”