Although the 2016–21 National Education Strategic Plan refers to a definition of inclusive education in the 2014 National Education Law, an explicit definition of inclusive education has not been found. The plan endorses a comprehensive inclusive education approach, addressing exclusion barriers based on language, gender, disability and marginalized backgrounds.
Special education needs
The 2014 National Education Law includes in the category of special education needs persons with disabilities, such as visually impaired, hearing impaired, mentally disabled and diverse learners.
The 2014 National Education Law regulates education provision in different types of education institutions, including special education schools, mobile and emergency schools and monastic schools (Art. 34). More specifically:
- Special education programmes are established to provide special instruction to children with disabilities (Art. 37). As of 2015, there are 12 special schools, located in Yangon and Mandalay, including 7 for children with visual impairments, 3 targeted at children with hearing impairments, and 2 for children with developmental and physical impairments.
- Mobile schools allow migrant workers’ children and family members to complete primary education (Art. 38[a]). With support from local authorities and civil society organizations, in the 2013/14 academic year, 12 mobile schools were opened in Bago Region, Magway Region and Rakhine State.
- Under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, monastic education is aligned with the curriculum of basic education. In the 2015/16 academic year, 1,538 monastic schools delivered the basic education curriculum.
To comply with Education for All principles, special education services are meant to cater for the needs of all children and youth experiencing particular circumstances, such as living in conflict or less developed areas, and/or with poor transportation, and/or in regions affected by natural disasters (Art. 38[b], National Education Law).
The Ministry of Education has planned to promote access for children with special education needs in the Compulsory and Inclusive Education Programme, acknowledging that some children require special school provision while others may benefit from being included in regular education. Along these lines, the 2016–21 National Education Strategic Plan intended to identify existing basic education schools that could be transformed into resource centres for inclusive education and progressively expand inclusive provision.
The Department of Alternative Education, under the Ministry of Education, manages alternative education learning opportunities, including equivalency programmes, basic and functional literacy programmes for illiterate youth and adults, alternative education learning programmes providing lifelong learning opportunities, and basic vocational skills training programmes focusing on job opportunities for youth. Under the Department of Social Welfare, local communities have opened voluntary night schools targeting out-of-school children and youths.
The 2008 Constitution of the Republic of Union of Myanmar enshrines the right to education for every citizen (Art. 366) and prohibits any form of discrimination on grounds of race, birth, religion, official position, status, culture, sex and wealth (Art. 348). It further mandates the Union to implement a free, compulsory primary education system (Art. 28[c]). The right to education for every citizen is reiterated in the 2014 National Education Law, which also emphasizes the right to lifelong learning opportunities (Art. 4[d]). The latter, with the 2015 National Education Law amendment, provides the legal framework for basic education.
In the social sector, the 2015 Child Law extends the right to access education to ‘every child’, regardless of nationality, race, belonging to an indigenous group, skin colour, gender, language, religion, socio-economic conditions, disability, political background or belief (Art. 72).
In 2012, following the political changes in 2010–11, the country embarked on a review of the education sector. Through a participatory process, the Comprehensive Education Sector Review (CESR) carried out an in-depth analysis and informed the development of an education sector plan for the period of 2016 to 2021. Based on the CESR and the recommendations of an education working group, the 2016–21 National Education Strategic Plan was developed. It aims to ensure that all children can access and complete quality basic education by implementing compulsory and inclusive education. The inclusive education approach endorsed in the plan intends to address any forms of exclusion based on language, gender, disability and other factors, responding to diverse barriers and providing the necessary supportive services. Particular emphasis is given to children from poor households, those at risk of dropping out and those with special education needs.
With regards to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programmes, the National Education Strategic Plan adopts an inclusive approach and takes into account diverse target groups, including ethnic and disadvantaged people, those living in remote and rural areas, and persons with disabilities, by, for instance, granting stipends and scholarships and by facilitating the links between TVET levels.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Law was adopted in 2015 after the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011. It lays down the right of every person with disabilities to access education ‘on an equal basis with others’, in all type of education institutions (Art. 20), including early childhood education and lifelong learning (Art. 24[a]), and to free and compulsory education based on the principle of proximity (Art. 24[b]). While school enrolment cannot be denied to persons with disabilities because of their impairments, exceptions based on subjects’ requirements are permitted (Art. 23). Concerning education provision, the law mandates the National Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, to regulate the development of an inclusive education system in which persons with disabilities can be ‘integrated’ (Art. 22). However, it also envisions the provision of special education programmes (Art. 25).
According to the 2014 National Education Law, persons with disabilities obtain education through special education programmes and services, based on a special curriculum designed to cater for the needs of visually impaired, hearing impaired, mentally disabled and diverse learners (Art. 41[b]). The 2016–21 National Education Strategic Plan commits to transitioning towards inclusion, allowing some students to receive education in regular schools. Based on a pilot programme aimed at including children with disabilities into early childhood care and development services, the plan intends to promote early childhood intervention and rehabilitation services for children ages 3 to 5. The strategic plan followed the 2013 Early Childhood Care and Development Policy, adopted by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, which promoted the transition to inclusive kindergarten and primary school from home and preschool for children ages 4 and 5 by providing barrier-free environments and by creating adequate learning opportunities and services.
The 2013–22 National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women outlines women’s rights in education and training. Two of its objectives focus on strengthening systems, structures and practices to ensure access to quality education for women and girls and on promoting education especially for women with disabilities. For this purpose, it calls for the development of policies encouraging a safe school environment.
Special initiatives have been adopted to promote gender inclusion in education. For example, Myanmar language classes have been organized with local authorities for girls and women who could not access school; girls who could not be educated because of religious traditions have been given access to school in Northern Rakhine State.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous groups
Myanmar is the official language of the country (Art. 450 of the Constitution), but every citizen has the right to ‘develop their language, literature, culture’ (Art. 354[d]). The National Education Law mandates the state, self-administered division or regional governments to set up classes for ethnic groups to promote their language, culture, arts and traditions and to teach ethnic groups’ culture, literature and history as subjects in tertiary education (Art. 42). While instruction is generally provided in English or in Myanmar, an ethnic language can be used as a medium of instruction at the basic education level (Art. 43).
Within the context of the education system reform, the drafting of a language policy has been discussed since 2014, and an Ethnic Rights Protection Law was adopted in 2015. Acknowledging that the language barrier contributes to dropping out, the CESR emphasized the importance of learning in the mother tongue and called for creating opportunities to learn in the native language of each ethnic group. However, the National Education Strategic Plan addressed the ethnic component by introducing the opportunity to develop a local curriculum to reflect local culture and traditions. In parallel, the plan intends to promote the Myanmar language through an enrichment programme in some states and regions among children belonging to ethnic groups.
The Rohingya group is a Muslim minority in the country. Since the adoption of the 1982 Citizenship Act, the Rohingyas have been denied citizenship in Myanmar and have become effectively stateless. Without the status of citizens, most of them remaining in Myanmar live in camps and cannot access basic services, including healthcare and education. In January 2020, the International Court of Justice ruled that ‘Myanmar must take action to protect Rohingya Muslims, who have been killed and driven from their homes in what the country’s accusers call a campaign of genocide’ and ordered Myanmar to report back on steps undertaken within four months.
People living in rural or remote areas
Among its strategies, the 2016–21 National Education Strategic Plan aims to expand preschool access to children in rural and remote areas. Recognizing their historical disadvantage at that level of education, the plan intends to provide targeted support to encourage school- and community-based early childhood care and development.
Since 2000, the Child Friendly School initiative has been implemented with UNICEF support in more than 120 towns to promote access to school in remote areas, prioritizing the reconstruction of primary schools in areas with low enrolment and completion rates.
In the 2016–21 National Education Strategic Plan, the Ministry of Education reaffirms its commitments to free and compulsory primary education through, for example, the abolishment of school fees and the provision of free textbooks and school uniforms. Within the Compulsory and Inclusive Education Programme, it also promotes equitable access to basic education by supporting learners from poor households who are not enrolled or are at risk of dropping out. The programme’s interventions consist of remedial education for students who are falling behind; stipends, which are planned to be expanded to middle and monastic schools; and school feeding.
Coordinated by the Ministry of Education, a school feeding programme has also been promoted by World Food Programme Myanmar, UNICEF and non-government organizations. It provides in-school feeding and take-home family rations in Chin State, Northern Rakhine State, Northern and Southern Shan States and Magway Region.
Collaboration across sectors
The 2014 National Education Law and the 2015 amendment recognized the need to strengthen coordination, management structures and systems across the Ministry of Education and established the Education Sector Working Group, a government-led coordination and policy dialogue mechanism between ministries that are directly or indirectly involved in the education sector. Within this framework, the National Education Strategic Plan intends to promote partnerships between the Ministry of Education and other key ministries, different national groups, non-government organizations and the private sector to further improve education service delivery.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is responsible for the education of children with disabilities and special schools, while the Department of Social Welfare has an administrative role at division and state level for its provision, although it does not have local offices.
The 2015 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Law set up a National Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, consisting of representatives of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, regional governments, non-government organizations and citizens’ associations, with the mandate to enhance cooperation among the main stakeholders and make arrangements for adequate learning materials and curriculum provision.
Set up in 1996 and reformed in 2011, the Myanmar National Committee for Women’s Affairs carries out gender equality and women’s development programmes under the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. It also plays an important role in the development and implementation of the 2013–22 National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women.
To enhance gender equality, a gender unit has been set up in the Department of Social Welfare, extended to region and state level. Gender units are also being established at the Department of Rural Development and the Department of Health.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous groups
Under the Ministry of Education, the Department of Myanmar Nationalities’ Languages plays a leading role in supporting the promotion of ethnic languages and identity, in part through the design of local curricula.
Cooperation across government levels
The Education Sector Working Group reports and the CESR recommended further fostering coordination across education subsectors, including strengthening the state/region, district and township education committees under the Ministry of Education in line with the decentralization reforms affirmed in the 2015 National Education Law amendment. For this purpose, the need to invest in capacity building for local education officers has been recognized.
New standards to promote barrier-free environments for public buildings are expected to be developed by the Ministry of Construction. The installation of accessible facilities, such as ramps and disability-friendly washrooms and toilets, is outlined in the draft 2012 National Building Code.
Within the Child Friendly School initiative, new schools have been built incorporating child-friendly infrastructure. The commitment to improve school accessibility was reaffirmed in the National Education Strategic Plan, which intends to develop an evidence-based school infrastructure investment plan in order to ensure quality standards, including water, sanitation and hygiene, gender- and disability-sensitivity, and disaster risk reduction criteria.
As outlined in 2014 National Education Law, the national curriculum is required to enable learners to accept diversity and value equality, allowing all ethnic groups to promote their culture, arts and traditions (Art. 39). While schools are permitted to adapt and improve the curriculum (Art. 40), the Ministry of Education spells out the standards for the special education programme’s content, targeted at diverse learners (Art. 41[b]).
The National Education Strategic Plan incorporates the country’s diversity in terms of ethnicity and language, envisioning the development of a local curriculum that includes ethnic languages, culture and arts, in accordance with the education needs of local people. The local curriculum consists of five classes per week at the primary school level and four classes per week at middle and high school levels.
A project of reform of the primary and lower secondary school curricula started in 2016, in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Asian Development Bank.
In 2007, the Myanmar Standardized Sign Language Dictionary was published, and with the support of JICA, sign language and sign language interpretation were promoted within the Project on Promoting Social Participation of the Deaf Community.
The National Education Strategic Plan aims to expand the provision of teaching and learning materials for basic education schools. To improve the management of teaching and learning materials, a Curriculum Materials Management Policy and linked practical guidelines are expected to be developed to support the activities of the Textbook Committee.
As other ASEAN countries, and in line with the recommendations of the CESR and the Education Sector Working Group, the 2016–21 National Education Strategic Plan lays emphasis on improving the quality of pre- and in-service teacher education and on revising the current recruitment and deployment policies. Currently, 21 teacher training colleges and 3 education universities provide teacher education at different levels. However, it has been reported that none of the programmes include courses or modules on inclusive education.
In order to address the shortages of teachers with a background in inclusive and special needs education, the Ministry of Education intends to develop resource schools to assist teachers in including children with disabilities. Limited knowledge on needs assessment has been reported for teachers in regular schools and other personnel. Individual education plans and referral systems based on learning assessment are not in place.
Individual initiatives of teacher trainings on disability have been promoted by non-government organizations and international non-government organizations such as Voluntary Services Overseas, Catholic Relief Service and Save the Children. With the support of JICA, the Department of Social Welfare implemented the Project on Promoting Social Participation of the Deaf Community in 2014–18, including advance training for trainers on sign language interpretation.
Acknowledging gender stereotyping as affecting both girls and boys, the National Education Strategic Plan calls for teachers to be trained on inclusion, addressing gender issues.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
As set in the National Education Law, teachers are expected to enhance the languages, literature, culture, arts, traditions and historical heritage of all ethnic groups (Art. 20[c]). The National Education Strategic Plan calls for the development of a programme for teacher education institutions to incorporate trainings on ethnic issues.
Currently, there is neither an education sector monitoring system in place to evaluate national education programmes nor a central computer-based database that monitors education programmes’ performance and informs an evidence-based decision-making process. Data collection is not systematic and focuses on education outputs. A need to develop a national computer-based monitoring system has been identified.
After a review of the education management information system (EMIS) in 2014–15, the system was expected to be strengthened based on a five-year EMIS strategic plan investigating gaps in the system and to rely on school mapping data. With UNESCO assistance, an EMIS operational plan for 2017–18 was launched and the baseline data collection operation was completed in January 2018.