One does not necessarily have to be an expert to point out that, Myanmar needs an Education Sector reform. The curriculums used in schools are old and the country has been slow at training their teachers. Consequences are clear: high drop out rates (only 31% of students complete upper secondary schools), lack of critical thinking skills, reduced productivity and less mobile labour force.
This can no longer be taken for guaranteed. Will the government which already has a lot on it’s plate be able to improve the country’s education as dramatically as required? I don’t know. But, countries like Pakistan has taken the bold move of involving the private sector as it’s partner to increase access to quality education for the rural poor and has achieved great results. Could Myanmar do the same? Maybe.
Realizing this potential of low-cost private schools, the government of Punjab in Pakistan turned to work with these schools, under different programs. First, the government provided a subsidy to these schools for each student enrolled. Next, the government trained teachers from these schools. In addition, another program hired qualified graduates from best universities with market rate salary to improve teaching methods and subject knowledge in such schools. These teachers worked part-time in each school, reducing the cost for each school. Furthermore, the government program also involved training principles and the directors of the schools in order to improve management skills and ensure that teachers have the opportunity to teach creatively, altering the curriculum as required.
With the change in the public sector’s role from running schools with a large number of students to managing and ensuring quality education is achieved, the results were not surprising. The public sector excelled in monitoring, setting out standardized tests and giving nationwide standardized trainings while the private sector worked hard on improving school’s facilities and the academic results to guarantee it’s place in the program the following year. Yes, the partnerships lead to the achievement of quality education for the rural poor and eventually reduced drop-out rates.
The success of PPP projects in Pakistan, Chile, Malaysia and increasing efforts in other countries such as India, to develop a better quality education through PPP is an indication of increasing popularity of PPP in changing the system of education delivery in developing countries. Myanmar itself has a huge potential for upgrading its education sector by promoting low cost private sector investment in education.
Private schools are more likely to advocate for better education and are more likely to come up with creative ideas to improve education and attract more students in the future. Private businesses have revolutionized products for the benefits of customers in many ways and the PPP model in education could do similar things.
Secondly, to promote incentive in the public sector to perform well, it is important to have competing private sector in order to increase incentives for the parties to act in the interest of the customers. Encouraging the emergence of low price private schools and supporting these schools will also create local employment in the region, reduce over crowding problems in classrooms and give the children in disadvantaged households a chance to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty through better education.
Finally, developing countries often have vague and general economic policies. The use of PPP model to improve education would force the government to come up with a mechanism to solve this issue in collaboration with the private sector. When partnered with the private sector, the government will have to make sure that the project aim is well defined and necessary regulations are in place.
What Myanmar could develop is an Education Foundation similar to the one in Punjab, Pakistan, which has been proven a success. The foundation needs to be under the ministry of education to develop a coordination mechanism amongst existing education providers. This needs to be emphasized since currently, more than one ministry is involved in the education sector namely the ministry of Religious Affairs, ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Border affairs. Nevertheless, this coordination should be voluntary in a sense that, no schools should be forced to join the foundation in order to ensure that participating institutions have the same sets of goals and vision to improve the existing system. Through this coordination system, the public sector can fund low price private schools.
When done systemically, the foundation will reduce the number of students in over crowded public schools, promote competition in the education sector and most importantly, improve the quality of education provided in rural areas. The provision of education will finally be inclusive of the low-income population, giving them a chance to come out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Finally, for the case of Myanmar, where there is very little private sector participation, it will be necessary to add extra elements such as: provision of loans to build private schools in rural regions, tax redemptions and reduce bureaucracy in school registration procedures to encourage private sector participation.