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Education in focus in Myanmar

Last week I was in Myanmar, where Ericsson hosted a seminar with Dr. Myo Myint, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Education in Myanmar.

The seminar was attended by senior education officials and head teachers, and the theme was ICT based solutions for Secondary Schools in Myanmar. The venue was the Ministry of Education’s complex in the administrative capital of Naypyidaw. I had the pleasure of sharing best practice from our ICT in education projects around the world with an audience that was enthusiastic, given the ongoing changes in the telecommunications market in Myanmar.

In fact, on the same day that we hosted the seminar, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology received applications from 22 consortiums for mobile licenses. The bidding process is expected to be completed by June, when licenses will be awarded. Shortly after that, there will be a rapid rollout of 3G services nationwide. Showing how quickly things are moving in Myanmar, on the same day last week the incumbent operator MPT dropped the price of purchasing a SIM card from some USD 200 to closer to USD 2. In fact, this was one of the main topics of conversation during the morning break when news of the offer spread through the room.

Despite the enthusiasm for ICT, there are some very basic needs in the education system in Myanmar that need to be met. Enrolment in secondary education hovers at just over 50 percent, one of the lowest figures globally. A Comprehensive Education Sector Review (CESR) is being conducted by the Ministry of Education and other education-related ministries in collaboration with development partners to understand fully and comprehensively the current status of education in Myanmar, as well as the strengths and gaps in reforming the education system. It was against this backdrop of major challenges in the existing education system plus the coming availability of mobile broadband in many of the nation’s schools – which previously didn’t even have a basic phone line – that Ericsson and the ministry focused their attention on how to harness the power of mobile broadband and apply global best practice to the Myanmar context.

During the seminar we were able to compare notes on what does and doesn’t constitute best practice. Myanmar, like many countries in the past, has embarked on previous programs to furnish schools with ICT infrastructure. But like projects in many other countries, these have failed because the competence threshold for teachers was too high and the solutions had very high operating and maintenance costs. Not enough attention was paid to the engagement of teachers in the process and to building up their competence in incremental steps. In conversation with the deputy minister and his team, we were able to demonstrate how modern cloud-based technology running over mobile broadband can allow devices such as netbooks and tablets to be managed remotely, which in turn provides a maintenance-free environment for teachers and students. Learning from global best practice as shared by Ericsson, it should now be possible to enable Myanmar’s Ministry of Education to explore opportunities to harness the power of ICT in schools. As a next step, we plan to work alongside the ministry in selected schools to deploy cutting-edge mobile broadband and cloud solutions that will help it define its policy on ICT in education in the ongoing CESR work.

Personally, I look forward to following the developments in Myanmar as the mobile broadband rates increase rapidly and the promise of a 21st century education is at the fingertips of every student in Myanmar.

For more information on Myanmar read our report: The potential economic impact of mobile communications in Myanmar

Written by Paul Landers

Paul is Program Manager for Connect To Learn at Ericsson. He oversees the development and deployment of Ericsson’s ICT solutions in schools across Africa and in other regions of the world. The Connect to Learn project aims to increase student access to education globally, and builds on Ericsson’s commitment to assisting the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal education. With experience in both the public and private sector, Mr. Landers has a studied the potential and implementation of ICT in education for over two decades. He started his career as a public school teacher in Ireland focusing specifically on ICT use in primary schools and the development of teacher training programs. Since joining Ericsson in 1998, he has been deeply involved in the creation of corporate eLearning programs both within Ericsson and as a consultant for supporting business partners around the world.