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Providing education for ethnic minorities in Myanmar

Among Myanmar's ethnic minorities, few speak Burmese. NPA partner Mon National Education Committee provides education for the Mon minority, preventing minority students from falling behind.

«Many children here cannot speak Burmese when they start school. Most know only Mon language from home. In our school they also learn about Mon history and Mon culture, and English. The most important we can do is to teach the children English».


Mi Chan Rod (22) has been working three years as a teacher for Mon National Education Committee (MNEC), a local partner organization to NPA. When civil war was raging in Mon state, MNEC started running primary schools in so-called black areas, areas where civilians were legal targets for Burmese soldiers. As the central government wouldn’t send teachers to these areas, the government schools closed down. 

With many conflict affected villages without schools, MNEC started in 1972 to provide education in the monasteries around the villages.

«Before, we had a problem with students of different ages in the same class. Some students were older than me!» MNEC Program Coordinator Mi Hlaing Non worked as a teacher ten years ago. «Some didn’t know how old they were», she says about the students she was teaching, most of them from conflict-affected areas. 

Times they are a’changing

Mi Hlaing Non describes the big change the schools have been through. From teaching in monasteries, now most schools have school buildings. While in the beginning primary students did not have the chance to go to Middle school, Mon students can now go all the way to high school in the MNEC system or between MNEC and government school at any level, as the Mon schools follow the government curriculum closely.

From relying mostly on community support, MNEC is now officially recognized and able to reach international donors. Still, the organization struggles with financing the schools and teacher salaries.

«We need more money to more teachers and more classes», Mi Chan Rod says, who herself wants to study abroad, «If I can learn better English I can teach English better to my students, but scholarships are hard to get, that is why I am just dreaming», she says.

MNEC teacher Mi Chan Rod dreams of studying abroad so she can learn better English, knowledge she would then transfer to her students. Photo: Jo Straube

The future doctor

Thirteen years old, Mi Bloy Tamah wakes up with her sister and mother at 5.30 AM every morning to cook rice that she gives to the monks. Her brother and father are working in Thailand.

The sisters only speak Mon with their friends and family. While Mi Bloy Tamah uses Mon as the first language also in school, her one year older sister Ma Thu Zar Oo goes to a government run school where they only speak Burmese.

With classes in Mon history and language, the younger sister has more classes in total. «I like Mon school because I want to learn Mon language and support my Mon community», says Mi Bloy Tamah, who wants to become a doctor and has English as her favorite subject.

Mi Bloy Tamah likes going to the MNEC school and learning both Mon language, Burmese and English. Photo: Jo Straube

10.01.2016 | Jo Straube