Education always a major focus for Japan’s bilateral cooperation with Myanmar

Myanmar and Japan enjoy a long-standing strong bilateral relationship across a wide range of political, economic, social and cultural spheres. Reflecting this, Japan’s economic cooperation to Myanmar dates back to as early as 1954. Throughout the history of the bilateral cooperation, education has always been a major area of focus, as Japan sees it as an important element as it supports Myanmar’s efforts for improving people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as developing human resources.

Since 2011, Japan’s economic cooperation has increased dramatically, and with the establishment of the National League for Democracy government in 2016, Japan renewed its assurance for continuous support for the Myanmar people. A landmark ‘Japan Myanmar Cooperation Program’ was launched in November 2016, during State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s official visit to Japan. Stating that Japan fully supports Myanmar’s policy of promoting balanced development among states and regions, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set out several focus areas in this program, one of which was the “enrichment of education widely received by the people, and job creation in line with industrial policies”.

Japan is fully committed to supporting the implementation of Myanmar’s National Education Strategic Plan 2016-21. The Japanese Embassy and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) are active participants in the education sector coordination meetings with relevant ministries together with other development partners. There are various ways in which Japan supports education in this country, from building schools, developing and improving curricula, providing skills development opportunities, to offering scholarships to study in Japan and supporting Japanese language education.

Improvement of basic education through realization of primary education completion and enhancement of education quality

Textbooks of more than half of the subjects for primary schools in Myanmar have not been updated for almost 20 years, while the learning methodology focused on rote memorization instead of fostering critical thinking skills. To realize the completion of primary education and enhancement of education quality, Japan is working with Myanmar to construct school buildings, formulate curricula, including arts and physical education, and enhance teachers’ skills.

In this context, Japan funds small-scale projects by non-profit organizations to build schools in communities all across Myanmar by using the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GGP). The GGP project implementation in Myanmar started in 1993 and to date, 400 schools have been built or refurbished and necessary equipment and facilities provided or updated.

In response to a request made by the Government of Myanmar to the Government of Japan to reconstruct/repair 493 schools affected by Cyclone Komen in 2015, Japan pledged 5 billion yen (60 trillion kyats) to support such efforts. The July 2015 flood caused serious damage on school buildings, often making them too dangerous for students to study in. Together with the Ministry of Education (MoE), JICA, Japan International Cooperation System (JICS), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as Japanese and local non-governmental organizations, Japan has been reconstructing and repairing about 300 schools damaged by the floods in Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Chin, Rakhine, Bago, Mandalay and Magwe areas. Based on the experience of overcoming a number of natural disasters, Japan is promoting ‘Build-Back-Better’ principles, with better and stronger building standards and structures so that schools become better prepared for future floods and other natural disasters.

Through the ‘Project for Curriculum Reform at Primary Level of Basic Education’, Japan is also working with the MoE to update the curriculum of primary education and assessment tools, while improving the teacher-training courses based on the new curriculum. In the 2017-18 academic year, the new curriculum and textbooks have been introduced for Grade 1, and Japan is working towards the gradual introduction for Grade 2 and above from the next year. The textbooks are printed in multi-color with many pictures and designed in a way that learning is fun and relevant to everyday life. The textbooks and teacher’s guides were developed by curriculum development teams assigned by the MoE with technical guidance of around 40 experts as well as over 60 Myanmar academics, and approved by the National Curriculum Committee under the National Education Policy Commission.

On January 20, 2017, a handover ceremony of Taungoo Teacher Education College was held, with a Grant Assistance of ¥2.5 million (approximately K30 billion) for the new building and equipment. About 400 students, including 200 new intakes, have started their study at the new campus. The upgraded facilities will not only increase the number of teachers to be dispatched each year, but also improve the quality of teachers, who are expected to play a leading role in improving standards of primary school learning.

Improvement of higher education leading to the strengthening of industrial human resource development

To boost job creation by fostering industries with higher employment capacity, it is necessary to foster and supply the human resources that such industries call for. Especially for higher industrial human resource development, Japan supports institutions of higher education, such as colleges of engineering, medicine, agriculture; the creation of an engineering human resource development network; and the improvement of technical knowledge of faculty members in colleges through opportunities to study in Japan.

‘Project for Enhancement of Engineering Higher Education in Myanmar’ is also underway, which is about enhancing research capability and undergraduate education quality at Yangon Technological University (YTU) and Mandalay Technological University (MTU). Main activities include doctoral course study programs at engineering universities in Japan for YTU/MTU teachers, supporting joint researches with cooperating universities in Japan, and introducing Japanese style education system centered on laboratory activities.

In medical education, young faculty members of Myanmar medical universities have started their PhD study in Japan, while more than 50 clinical doctors and technologists will have 3-month intensive training in Japan to improve diagnostic imaging and emergency care.

In agriculture, Japan provided lecture buildings, equipment and laboratory items for Yezin Agriculture University, Nay Pyi Taw, as well as Central Agricultural Research and Training Center, Vegetable Fruit Research Development Center and Seed Bank with an aim to ensure quality education and research for agricultural human resource development.

In 2013, JICA, the Ministry of Commerce and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) established the Myanmar-Japan Center (MJC) in Yangon. MJC aims at increasing the capacity of business human resources in Myanmar, especially middle class managers or owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises. MJC has been providing a variety of business training courses by Japanese professional lecturers, such as corporate management, marketing strategy, finance & accounting, factory management (5S & Kaizen), etc. The number of participants in 2016 fiscal year reached over 3000 people. MJC serves as business networking hub for Myanmar and Japan. It provides excellent trainees with the opportunity to attend business-matching in Japan, and supports to build the network among business associations or local governments in both countries

To foster skillful workers promptly, and secure human resources needed by the industrial sector, Japan provides assistance, based on on-going vocational training and skill evaluation to improve the vocational training system and develop the necessary infrastructure that will benefit both local and foreign companies.

High academic standards, wide range of school types and well-developed financial support for international students

The Japanese Government has set the long-term goal of accepting 300,000 international students by 2020 – to double the number from 140,000 in 2012 – based on the Japan Revitalization Strategy to improve the international competitiveness and to deepen mutual understanding with other countries to contribute to global stability and peace.

A survey has found that international students are eager to study in Japan because of the high level of science and technology, Japanese culture of monozukuri (manufacturing and craftsmanship), comparatively low tuition fees and well-developed financial support, a wide range of school types from basic research to skills development with good reputation, and personal safety and security. Japan is striving to make those features even more attractive for international students through collaboration with the private sector.

Acceptance of Myanmar students to Japan began with 117 students in 1943 and 1944. Since 1952, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has provided the MEXT Scholarship for Myanmar students. Japan is very proud that former MEXT scholars have played vital roles over the years in the development of their beloved nation in a variety of fields.

MEXT Scholarship covers round trip air ticket, full tuition fees, and some living expenses. Applications are publicly open after Thingyan (Water Festival) in April and close in May. Those who are interested in MEXT Scholarship can follow the Japanese Embassy’s Facebook page [see box] to find out more. They can also get information and consult on scholarships at the Embassy of Japan’s monthly student advisory sessions, or at Study in Japan Fairs in Yangon and Mandalay held once a year, in partnership with Myanmar Association of Japan Alumni (MAJA).

Furthermore, in order to develop core human resources who will play key roles in socio-economic development of Myanmar, Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS) was started in 2001, and young and bright fellows from public and private sectors have been sent to Japan every year. Participants help strengthen the bilateral relationship between Myanmar and Japan by building and expanding a human network, and so far 509 people were awarded to pursue Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Japanese universities.

In recent years the number of privately financed students is also rapidly increasing. According to the latest annual survey, as of May 1, 2016, the number of students studying in Japan from Myanmar was 3851, ranking the 8th in the world, with an increase of 39.8 percent from the previous year. To meet their needs, MEXT provides ‘MEXT Honors Scholarship for Privately Financed International Students’ through Japan Student Service Organization (JASSO). This program’s qualifications do not include an age limit, designated Japanese schools to attend or designated courses to major in. Students are eligible to apply even if they are not university students, such as technological or specialized training college. MEXT has also established the Study in Japan Coordinator Office operated by Okayama University (OJEIC, Okayama University Japan Educational Information Center) at the Pearl Condo in Yangon in 2014. It has been active with its mission of facilitating bridges that lead excellent students in Myanmar to Japan, which is the appropriate place to pursue their diverse interests of higher study and research. Anyone can consult with the coordinator for free without a reservation to make a study plan and to seek advice about financial assistance, such as tuition fee exemption or waiver system and scholarship programs.

MAJA, supported by the Embassy of Japan, also provides a unique opportunity to take the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU), the exam designed for international students wishing to enroll and study at Japanese universities on their Japanese language proficiency and basic academic abilities. Nearly all of the national universities and many of the private universities request submitting EJU scores in their admission process for international students. In Yangon, anybody can apply to take the exam twice a year. The next EJU will be held on November 12. The benefits of taking the EJU in Myanmar include merit-based scholarships, pre-arrival admission without traveling to Japan and cheaper fee for the exam compared with taking in Japan.

To broaden the Japanese learner base for studying in Japan and to enable them to seek employment in Japanese companies depending on their needs, the Government of Japan and related organizations, such as JASSO, OJEIC, MAJA, and other private sectors also work to create and enhance Japanese-language education environments for providing effective support in Myanmar.

The country and people of Japan wish that cordial relations between Myanmar and Japan, based on people-to-people exchange at every level, would continue for many years to come and would be pleased to see these opportunities utilized effectively.

Source : Myanmar Times