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Quality Education in Myanmar: Perspectives from Education Leaders

In a groundbreaking case study, researcher Nay Myo Htet delves into the perceptions and experiences of education leaders in Myanmar regarding the elusive goal of quality education. Conducted as part of his MSc in Research Methods with Education at the University of Manchester, this timely study sheds light on the complex realities facing Myanmar's education system in the wake of the 2021 military coup.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with five education leaders from diverse backgrounds - including a State Administrative Council school, the Ministry of Education-National Unity Government, an International Private School, an Ethnic Education Organisation, and a Non-Governmental Organisation - Htet's research paints a nuanced picture of how quality education is conceptualized and challenged in the Myanmar context.

Four key themes emerged from the cross-case analysis:
1. A Student-Centred Quality Education: The education leaders emphasized the need for a pedagogical approach that prioritizes students' interests, well-being, and the development of critical thinking skills, rather than the prevalent rote-learning practices.
2. Different Skills and Values for Different Students: The leaders espoused differing perspectives on the skills and values that quality education should impart, reflecting the heterogeneous needs and aspirations of Myanmar's diverse student population, from preparing future leaders to cultivating a sense of federal democratic citizenship.
3. Teacher Quality: Across the board, the participants stressed the central role of qualified, well-trained, and adequately remunerated teachers in delivering a holistic, student-centred pedagogy.
4. Quality Education as Ideals vs. Realities: The education leaders navigated the tensions between their visions for quality education and the harsh realities of an education system constrained by political upheaval, resource scarcity, and structural inequalities.

Significantly, the researchers found that the recent military coup in Myanmar has inadvertently accelerated a trajectory towards a quality education model that centers on students' interests and federal democratic citizenship, as formal schooling is increasingly being challenged and bypassed by less conventional educational spaces and structures.

"Myanmar's formal schooling is now being put into question as it no longer serves the interests of the people," Htet observes. "Quality education in Myanmar must be developed from the bottom up, considering all aspects of the economic, social, cultural, and political issues, with democracy being a fundamental prerequisite."
The study's critical realist approach, which examines the interplay between events, structures, and mechanisms, highlights how the education leaders' perceptions of quality education are shaped by their personal experiences, the context of their respective institutions, and the broader political landscape in Myanmar.

As the country grapples with the fallout of the military coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, Htet's research underscores the urgent need to redefine quality education in Myanmar, prioritizing the diverse needs and aspirations of students, empowering teachers, and aligning the education system with the quest for social justice and democratic governance.

"This study provides a valuable starting point for rethinking the purpose and delivery of education in Myanmar," Htet concludes. "By centering the perspectives of education leaders, we can chart a path towards a more equitable and inclusive quality education that truly serves the interests of the people."

Htet, N. M. (2022). A Case Study of Quality Education in Myanmar: Education Leaders' Perspectives. Unpublished MSc dissertation, University of Manchester.
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Apple, M. W. (2016). Cultural Politics and Education. New York: Teachers College Press.