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NEWS UPDATES 23 June 2010

Free education in Myanmar?

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Once again, parents in military-ruled Myanmar are counting the cost of a primary education for their children in public schools. It is an annual ritual that comes with the beginning of the new school year, which coincides with the onset of the monsoon rains in June.

Although the Southeast Asian nation has laws affirming that primary school education is free and compulsory, the economic headaches parents have to cope with at this time of the year suggest otherwise, according to a parent from Yangon, the former capital, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Asia Times.

It is a burden that has persisted even after the junta appeared to reprimand public schools taxing parents to make private payments to keep their children enrolled in the state-supported education system, the parent added.

"Many public schools expect parents who have primary school children to pay for building maintenance, school furniture and school books," confirmed Aung Myo Min, director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), a non-governmental group based in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. "The first month of the school year is the most expensive for these parents. They have to make the annual payment then."

He estimated that such financial demands for a promised "free" education are often as high as 100,000 kyat (about US$100) for the year. "That is a big amount for a family to bear," he told Inter Press Service (IPS). That amount already makes up about 50 percent of the monthly wage of a mid-ranking civil servant in Myanmar, which ranges close to $200 per month.

But that is not the only financial worry for an education in Myanmar. A parent with a child advancing into secondary school in the state-supported education system could expect to be hit by a demand of 200,000 kyat at the beginning of the school year.

"The higher you go up in the school system, the more you pay," explained Aung Myo Min. "The demands are for the same expenses as primary schools - buildings, books, furniture. Sometimes it is for more."


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