As popular uprisings spill on to the streets of cities across Myanmar, what part does the decimated education of Burma’s millennials plays in the subjugation of the masses?
At one time, learning among young people was facilitated by a country-wide network of Buddhist monks. Education was interwoven with a strong set of morals including compassion for the poor, respect for elders and pacifism. Much of this was dismantled under British rule from 1985-1947. Education, at least for the elite, prospered under colonial rule with Rangoon becoming a prestigious university in southern Asia.
Since the military coup in 1962, Burma has been subject to the relentless rule of a military junta, one set of generalssucceeding another. Several events have stultified education during this time.English language was arbitrarily removed from schools and colleges for thirtyyears. This together with increasing economic and political introversion led toyoung people being increasingly isolated and cut off from the internationaldiscourse of ideas. In the 1990s the junta, fearful of student dissent, brokeup universities, locating departments in different rural locations. Meanwhile,facing extreme poverty, state school teachers regularly abandon their classesfor private tuition which pays better.
In recent years, as Myanmar has inched towards democracy, take up of higher education is gradually improving. Even though the National League for Democracy have seats in the national assembly, their delegates arerelatively speaking, poorly educated and politically inexperienced. One way young people are breaking the mould is to take higher education courses outside Myanmar and return to apply their knowledge and skills at community level ineconomic development, telecoms, medicine, engineering and agriculture. To do this, they are usually reliant upon scholarships from charities like Prospect Burma.
In this is intimate account called Whispers of Hope, I tell the story of Burma past and present. Sometimes gentle and often raw, a Burmese family and other Burmese nationals give their eyewitness version of events spanning the twentieth century up to the present day. Their quintessential English names belie the colonial influence and their Anglo-Burmese roots.
From my outsider perspective, seven reasons come to mind…
"In those seven days the Burmese cast a spell over me, winding themselves into my heart, and leaving an ache, a gnawing hunger."