Burma aid package must keep the needs of children in its sights

Professor Michael Singh, Centre for Educational Research, University of Western Sydney


How might the Australian Government best invest its $80 million education package for Burma?

‘Australian Development Scholarships’ are meant to provide better educated teachers for Myanmar’s (Burma) children, but they can also be used to enhance improvements in the individual recipients’ life chances, through them gaining Australian permanent residence after completing their studies here.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s pledge of financial aid is likely to have a significant and positive impact on the future of children in Myanmar — if the reform package is used to educate teachers in a way that immediately benefits students’ learning.

To rework a well-known Ghanaian educational concept — Australia’s education package for Myanmar should not be an exercise in educating individual teachers; Australian funds must contribute, simultaneously, to educating teachers and their students.
A meaningful education for teachers and their children must be grounded in the local drivers of schooling in Myanmar and directed to realising that society’s best aspirations for the Twenty First Century.

Australians should be proud that this funding will give millions of children in Myanmar an opportunity to finish primary school.

This education package is an honourable investment.

Myanmar is the poorest country in Southeast Asia. According to Senator Carr, less than half of the country’s five million children complete the full five grades of primary schooling and only 57 per cent of teachers in Myanmar are appropriately educated and properly qualified.

By making education the flagship of Australia’s aid program in Myanmar, Australians will be making a significant contribution to giving these children the most basic of human rights — the right to education; the right to learn in a safe environment; and the right to clean water and sanitation.

While it has the potential for a positive impact on Australia’s GDP and international competition in global knowledge economies, this reform package is in line with Australia’s key international priorities with respect to the Millennium Development Goal for Education.

But a project such as this will only be effective if the Australian education of teachers from Myanmar is directly focuses on, and immediately contributes to the education of school children in Myanmar.

Australian Development Scholarships should not be a vehicle for individual enhancement, but be purposively designed to secure multiple benefits.

Senator Carr announced that a key feature of the Australian Government’s support for Myanmar is to undertake a “comprehensive education sector review to guide the Government of Myanmar and donors' future investments in education”.

Such a review will be valuable – and valued – if it contributes to knowledge of Myanmar’s linguistic and intellectual assets, and how these can provide a basis for Australia’s investment in the education of its teachers and children.

The Foreign Minister says Australia will also help to drive sustainable development by building the capacity of teachers and local administrators to “deliver quality education services”, and by “steadily increasing scholarships to study at our world-class universities”.

The ‘Australian Development Scholarships’ will provide opportunities for Myanmar government and civil society leaders, including teachers, to study at Australian universities.

However, these teachers’ Scholarships cannot just focus educating individual teachers; Australia’s teacher education programs for Myanmar must used to simultaneously educate Myanmar children.

Driving sustainable development in Myanmar is not just a matter of increasing scholarships – the Australian Government must ensure that the focus of Australian teacher education programs make their primary focus improving learning outcomes for school children in Myanmar.

However, a major problem which currently exists is the disconnection between much existing teacher training provided through ‘Australian Development Scholarships’ and the immediate educational benefits that they could provide for children’s learning.

The Government needs to ensure that our world-class universities provide an innovative approach to teacher education that simultaneously leads to improvements in children’s learning, including their health education, and builds these teachers’ capacity to further contribute Myanmar’s much needed knowledge in this field.

Such world-class programs must be designed and structured so that the benefits to the Scholarship holders also have an immediate impact on school students in Myanmar during the course of the teachers’ studies in Australia.

What can Australian universities do to ensure that the basic human right of education is enjoyed by the children of Myanmar through their teacher education programs?

Highly innovative teacher education programs are needed that directly link the training of Myanmar’s teachers to making a direct impact upon students’ learning.

Moreover, this is an important opportunity to internationalise teacher education by creating Eurasian knowledge about teaching and learning; Australian universities cannot afford to ignore the theoretical concepts that teachers from Myanmar bring with them.

Innovative research-oriented school-engaged teacher-researcher education should be based on:

  • Collaboration among Australian and Myanmar Government agencies with Australian universities and local education agencies in Myanmar.
  • Making school students’ learning the primary focus of the team-based education of teacher-researchers.
  • Directly engaging with both the educational concepts and the languages of Myanmar teacher-researchers.
  • Disseminating the teacher-researchers knowledge generated through their research-driven interventions in relevant languages in Myanmar and beyond.
  • Assessing the impact Australia’s education of teacher-researchers from Myanmar in terms of its direct impact the children’s learning and progress through schooling.
  • A program design that ensures scholarship holders graduate and continue to work in Myanmar.

When we educate teacher-researchers through having them study their efforts to educate children, it is possible to effect changes in the children’s health, well-being, safety and future life trajectory.


17 June 2012

Contact: Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer