Hla Tint (2014) Perspectives of Open and Distance Learning in Myanmar Yangon Myanmar: Yangon University of Distance Education
You probably know relatively little about the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (still also known as Burma in some countries), and if you are like me, you know even less about open and distance education in Myanmar.
Myanmar was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1962 to 2011. Many Western countries placed sanctions on Myanmar and as a result it was quite isolated until recently. General elections were held in 2010, and the military junta was dissolved a year later, but the military are still strongly in control, although a process of democratic liberalisation is under way. Nobel prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, recently legalized, won 43 of 45 parliamentary seats in parliamentary by-elections in 2012, sanctions have been withdrawn, and there is now much greater contact with Western and other countries.
Open and distance education in Myanmar
I am very grateful to Dr. Hla Tint, the Acting Rector of Yangon University of Distance Education, for sharing with me a recent paper he has written about open and distance learning in Myanmar. I recommend that you read the paper in full, but here is a brief summary:
The Higher Education System
- there are currently 163 HE institutions, all currently funded by the government
- in 1975, bachelors programs were offered through University Correspondence Courses (print supplemented by radio), in association with Yangon University (the main university at the time – Yangon was formerly called Rangoon by the British)
- in 1992, UCC was upgraded to the University of Distance Education
- in 1998 the name was changed to Yangon University of Distance Education, because another institution, Mandalay University of Distance Education, was created that year.
In 2012, there was a total of 471,000 students (out of a total population of 60 million). Of these 471,000 students, 284,000 (60%) were studying by distance education. Roughly 60,000 students a year graduate through the distance education programs, and course completion rates average 85%.
Delivery methods and technology
The two distance teaching universities have a total of 32 local learning centres, mostly attached to conventional universities, across the country. These centres provide access to labs, offer intensive face-to-face classes before exams, and act as exam centres.
Originally, the delivery methods included printed textbooks, study guides and 16 assignments per course. Today, the distance universities make extensive use of satellite broadcasting, with their own channel, with reception available in over 600 learning centres in schools, colleges and universities. In addition students have access to printed materials, audio and video tapes, and live broadcast teaching as well as more general television programs.
The Internet however is not accessible in many places in Myanmar and is expensive to use, and so is not in significant use to date by the distance teaching universities. Nevertheless Yangon University of Distance Education offers approximately 50 courses online, mainly in law.
This seems to be work in progress. There is an annual symposium to draw up quality standards for distance education, and international exchange programs are being organized for faculty. The Centre for Distance Education (CDE), London University is working to prepare a project proposal “Capacity Development Initiative for Yangon University of Distance Education”. YUDE is also working with ICDE’s quality assurance standards.
I strongly recommend that you read the full paper (click here), but I am struck by the importance of distance education in Myanmar, where more than 60% of those who matriculate from high school take programs by distance. In 2011, 14% of a cohort went on to some form of tertiary education in Myanmar, so there is still a huge challenge in providing sufficient places in universities. In such circumstances, there is much greater scope for expansion of the system through distance education than through conventional institutions. The issue of course is quality and recognition of the degrees from the distance teaching universities, as well as the need to strengthen the school system so that more students matriculate.
Also I find the choice of technology interesting and highly appropriate given the high cost and limited availability of the Internet. Even when the Internet becomes more widely available, it will be difficult to achieve the economies of scale currently being achieved through the use of print and satellite broadcasting.
Myanmar is going through a very important transition, but it seems well placed to build on its past history of distance education.