RANGOON –Britain and Australia announced that they will jointly spend about US $21 million to help more than 200,000 children in Burma complete primary education by 2015.
The countries are keen to increase aid to Burma as a result of ongoing reforms, and indicated that together they would spend up to half a billion dollars on aid to Burma between 2011 and 2015.
“The Myanmar Education Consortium will provide access to early childhood education for more than 55,000 children and basic education for more than 160,000 children,” said Peter Baxter, director-general of Australian Agency for International Development during a press conference on Thursday.
The British and Australian-funded education consortium would support monastic schools, community groups and ethnic education systems, including the training of 4,500 non-government school teachers and 2,500 monastic school administrators and principals.
According to a 2012 Unicef report, currently only 54 percent of all Burmese children complete primary school and completion rates are lowest in rural and ethnic areas.
Baxter visited Burma together with Mark Lowcock, Permanent Secretary of the UK Department for International Development, and Australia and Britain are working together as they step up aid operations in the country.
Baxter said the joint effort showed that both countries gave importance to supporting Burma’s “remarkable reforms,” adding that they were keen to work with President Thein Sein’s reformist government.
“We are the first western donors to have a presence in Naypyidaw,” said Lowcock, referring to the joint DFID/Ausaid office that was opened in the capital this week.
Both officials stressed their concern over Burma’s dozen or so ethnic conflicts and said that their $21 million education program was destined for non-government organizations in remote, poor and ethnic areas.
They added that they met with parliamentarians, ethnic leaders, rights workers and non-governmental organizations during their visit.
Ten of Burma’s ethnic conflicts are frozen after ceasefires were reached last year, but the conflict between Kachin rebels and the government continues to rage in northern Burma.
“We are concerned about the escalating violence in Kachin State. We continue to urge all sides to work for peaceful resolution. We recognize the effort from the government to secure a ceasefire agreement with the Kachin,” said Lowcock.
In a sign of their trust in Burma’s reforms, the UK and Australian indicated that they would spend hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
“Australia and the UK will provide up to US$ 500 million in development assistance to [Burma] from 2011 to 2015,” according to a press release, which said that Australia would spend about $100 million in aid annually from 2015 onwards.
Fields in which these funds will be spend include education, health, peace and development in ethnic areas, and “practical support for a better managed economy, responsible investment, parliament and the rule of law,” the release said.
On Jan. 19, the Burmese government and donor countries, aid agencies and international development banks signed the so-called Naypyidaw Accord, a non-binding agreement that sets out guidelines on achieving effective government-donor cooperation.
The agreement paves the way for donor countries, international aid agencies and multilateral development banks to drastically expand their aid programs and loans to Burma.
Until recently, foreign aid to Burma was limited because of the repressive regime of the military junta, which was replaced by Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in 2011.
Although, the government is still under strong influence of the military and military-affiliated party the USDP, foreign countries are keen to pour aid into impoverished Burma.
Last weekend, Burma’s foreign creditors, under the leadership of Japan, cut more than $6 billion of the country’s foreign debt.
The move allowed the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to resume lending to Burma and they immediately committed about $900 million in new loans.
(Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)