by Jubilee Thanga

Deliberate neglect by rulers

Illiteracy or poor education is one of the main factors behind the poverty and political crises in Myanmar over the past 70 years. Historically, military coups and dictatorial leaderships have destroyed the education system and economic stability in Myanmar. Until 1960, Myanmar’s education system followed British curricula and was considered one of the best school systems in Southeast Asia. The first military coup in 1962 changed the education system to a socialist education system and promoted socialism. Public education is under the control of the ruling government, and private schools are not allowed to open. After the second military coup in 1988, the education system and curricula were changed several times under the military government until 2015. In the last 27 years, all primary school students have advanced to the next level without having the opportunity to learn properly. In addition, the government has restricted the final examination (10th grade) due to the lack of colleges and universities. As a result, only 60% of the children can complete elementary school, 20% drop out, and another 20% never have the opportunity to attend school due to poverty and difficult access to school. In 2015, it is estimated that less than 15% of the population will be able to earn a bachelor’s degree. The two major protest movements (1988, 2021) against the military dictatorship were led by a few educated people in the country. And the military easily controls most of the low educated population. This fact suggests that poor education or illiteracy was systematically used by dictatorial leaders to stay in power for many years.

The situation today

In 2016, under the first elected civilian government, a new education system and curricula were introduced, better adapted to the context of the global world, and allowing freedom for private schools. However, this new education system collapsed and paralyzed again after the military coup in February 2021. About 70% of primary school teachers and professors from secondary schools and universities are leading the protest movement against the military coup. A large number of students are now involved in militias, the People’s Defense Army, and are fighting against the current government. This has led to a bloody civil war in all regions of the country, unprecedented in Myanmar’s history since independence from the British in 1947. As a result, children and youth in Myanmar have lost all rights and privileges to quality education. This is driving the nation into extreme poverty, social turmoil, and crime. The children live without security. Many are housed in refugee camps. Schools had been closed for almost 2 years, when the government forced the without effective teachers. Since there are no safeguards against pandemics and child abuse, less than 50% of parents send their children to school. In this way, the country’s development is set back by at least three decades.

Schools of Hope

Recognizing all these problems, we developed an educational program that provides continuous education, child safety and a holistic development. We designed a community-based education center and named it “School of Hope”. We opened 17 “School of Hope” education centers, which were attended by 370 students in 2021. Some are located in the premises of the church, others in private houses. The number of children in a center is limited to 20. They are cared for by two Christian volunteers. The school is open from Monday to Friday. The children learn their school lessons in a small group according to their grade level. In addition, the children learn two Bible lessons each week. The teachers find a way to enroll their students in the government school. This way, the students can take an exam in the government school every year to get an official grade level. Through these “Schools of Hope”, many children are able to continue their school careers. Some students who are not enrolled are also integrated into the public school. This education center is supported by the parents (school fees), the church/Christian community and Grain of Wheat Myanmar.

Ya no tengo palabras

Soe Maung is 11 years old but was never enrolled in school because he was a disabled child. He could not speak from birth. He was also disowned by his parents because, according to Buddhist beliefs, he was considered a child with a curse from his previous life. Therefore, he was always seen on the streets. By God’s grace, a School of Hope was opened in the home of a church-planting couple near the community where Soe spent his daily life. One day, the teacher discovered Soe on the street and invited him to his home. When Soe saw that many of his friends were attending class, he wanted to join it. The teacher allowed him to stay with his friends every day, even though he could not speak. One day, Soe asked his teacher in sign language to pray for him because he wanted to speak and learn in a class like his friends. The teacher couple fasted for Soe Maung for three days and laid hands on him on the third day. The next morning, Soe came to class and called his teacher by name. It was a miracle for his parents, and now Soe Maung and his mother accepted Jesus Christ. Soe is now attending first grade at the age of 11 and is also enrolled in public school.

Protection for children

An area director of Grain of Wheat Myanmar tells of another blessing: “The School of Hope is very helpful in preventing our children from being trafficked to other parts of the country to work. As we know, Ayeyarwady is the least developed and poorest region in the country. Many traffickers come looking for children to work in restaurants and homes, and they are even exported to China and Thailand. We have lost many children and youth every year who could not be traced by their families. By providing school education in the community in 2020-2021, our children are safe. Many children have come to Jesus Christ. Many parents are very happy about our ministry to their children.”

We have so many individual testimonies and stories to tell. We can see so many good results in the lives of children and families. For this reason, providing education with Christian values is essential to ending poverty and building the nation for a better future. It is also a Christian mission challenge to be involved in the education of children in order to spread the Kingdom of God in Myanmar. For this reason, Grain of Wheat Myanmar is very interested in opening an international Christian school and a Christian teachers’ seminary to impact the lives of the next generations with Christian values.