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Burma once had a strong and expanding education system. Since the current military regime staged a coup in 1988, the system has deteriorated to the point where post-secondary education is in effect non-existent. Nearly all of Burma’s universities and colleges have been mostly closed since the student-led protests in 1988, in which thousands of non-violent demonstrators were gunned down in the streets. With the exception of military universities, the universities in Burma have been open sporadically throughout the past 11 years for a total of 3 years. Most academic materials are decades out of date and teaching English in schools was banned from 1966 until 1980. The reason given for the school closures by the military is that they must maintain political stability. The SPDC spends less than 1.1% of the GDP on education.


The greatest barrier of access to primary and secondary school education is poverty. Cuts in government spending for education has meant an increase in costs to families in the form of a series of taxes and donations paid to the education department, the school, and teachers. It is estimated that 2/3 to 3/4 of children drop out of school before fifth grade.

Ethnic Conflict

Children in ethnic minority conflict areas are even less likely to have access to school, as physical survival and the struggle for food security takes priority. Since the SPDC does not respect even basic human rights, it is not surprising that it does not provide for education. In the best-case scenario, a school may exist, but it will likely be run by SPDC government-sanctioned teachers who seek to instill “Burman” values in their students. The other option is the establishment of local community schools which must rely on self-help measures to survive. Often only the military-sanctioned schools are allowed to remain open, while the non-Burman community schools are shut down. This is part of the junta’s tactics of “Burmanizing” some of the ethnic minorities by making it difficult for them to retain their own language and culture.