Despite its political struggles, Myanmar's society values education and boasts one of the highest literacy rates in Southeast Asia. The country's education system has undergone significant developments since its independence from British rule. The language of instruction in public schools changed from English to Burmese, making public education a largely unsuitable choice for expats.
Expats looking to live and work in Myanmar will likely have to enrol their children in one of the private or international schools located in Yangon, although competition for space is quite fierce due to the growing expat population.
Public schools in Myanmar
Myanmar’s education system is still based on the British system, and English is offered as a second language in schools. Preschool begins at age two until five and schooling becomes compulsory with primary school education from Grades 1 to 5. Thereafter, students enter secondary school, which comprises middle and high school.
While public schools in Myanmar may be free to attend, the quality of education is far below what most expats are used to. Schools are under-resourced and have ageing infrastructure, while teachers are underpaid due to poor government spending on education. As a consequence of the ongoing political crisis in the country, many children stop attending school after primary school.
Private schools in Myanmar
Private schools are a fairly new concept in Myanmar and typically offer the national curriculum with a distinct focus on English. These schools are mainly targeted towards middle-class families and offer smaller class sizes and a wider range of extracurricular activities at a much more affordable rate than international schools.
Teachers at private schools are legally required to register with the government under the new private school law.
Since their inception in 2012, private schools have enjoyed consistently high levels of enrolment, as they offer an excellent standard of education and allow students to develop their English-language proficiency. Expat children are also likely to experience less culture shock than they would at public schools.
A significant percentage of children also attend monastic secular schools, which are run by monks. These schools focus on literacy and arithmetic proficiency. Historically, monastic schools only admitted boys. They have since evolved to provide education to all children from villages who cannot access government schools.
International schools in Myanmar
Expat parents moving to Myanmar who wish for their children to continue in their home country’s curriculum or learn a global curriculum should consider an international school.
International schools have long been permitted to operate in Myanmar and are mostly based in Yangon. The English National Curriculum and American curriculum are the most popular offerings, with many schools also offering the International Baccalaureate programme. Though not as common, French and Singaporean curricula are also on offer in Myanmar.
These schools offer expat children an opportunity to retain their home language and culture while meeting other expat families and still learning about Myanmar’s rich heritage.
Special-needs education in Myanmar
Myanmar implemented an Inclusive Education policy to ensure the integration of children with special educational needs into mainstream public schools. That said, this rarely happens due to a lack of enforcement of the policy and inadequate resources.
Nevertheless, children with mild support needs are permitted by law to be accommodated in mainstream schools. Children with visual, physical and hearing impairments and developmental impediments have access to one of 12 specialised schools in Yangon and Mandalay.
Private and international schools are the best alternative for expat children, as they are more likely to have the resources to adapt the learning environment and curricula to suit a child's needs. Parents should contact international and private schools to find out about the respective accommodations offered at each school.
Tutors in Myanmar
Tutoring is extremely popular in Myanmar and is often used as a substitute for public education. School going children in Myanmar typically have 20 hours of tutoring a week to help with preparation for matriculation or international board examinations.
Tutors can also be an invaluable resource for expat children, since they can help them learn a new language or maintain proficiency in their home language. They can also help with adapting to a new curriculum and language through online or in person lessons.
The recommended tutoring companies in Myanmar, include TeacherOn, Tutoroo and Apprentus.