The world must support Aung San Suu Kyi achieve education for all in Burma

Source: The office of Gordon & Sarah Brown webpage: http://gordonandsarahbrown.com/2012/06/the-world-must-support-aung-san-suu-kyi-achieve-education-for-all-in-burma/

Gordon, Sarah and Glenys Kinnock meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi © OGSB 2012

It was an honour for Sarah, Glenys Kinnock and me to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday after all this time. Daw Suu’s enduring courage under so many years of house arrest sent a message to the world that no confinement or prison cell, no intimidation or brutality, no personal loss or even the threat to life itself could ever extinguish her determination that one day her people shall be free.

So when Daw Suu tells us, as she did in her historic address to the Houses of Parliament, that her determination and that of the Burmese people can only get them so far, and that the support of peoples around the world can get them so much further, we should respond by ensuring the international community does what it can to help Burma stay on the path towards a better future.

Education is key to realising that better future. In her speech Daw Suu asked for help from the rest of the world to build education opportunities for children in Burma – and when we met we talked about how we would achieve for the first time in Burmese history the right of every child to go to school.

Burma needs our help because the current system is failing its young people and stifling their potential. As we have outlined in this note that we have written on the educational challenges facing Burma, the current Burmese government spends a smaller share of its wealth on education than almost any other country in the world – just 1% of the country’s GDP. As a result over 10% of Burma’s children are not attending primary school – 400,500 missing girls and boys. 1.8 million children are not in secondary school – 40% of the total. And to make matters worse, the international aid system is also failing to provide adequate education to those children who are refugees in camps over the border in Thailand. Funding is being withdrawn too quickly, leading to a shortfall of $3.1million for 2011-2014.

We discussed with Daw Suu the need to develop a coordinated national strategy. Multilateral donors such as the Global Partnership for Education, leading bilateral donors such as AusAID and DFID, non-governmental organisations such as BRACWorld EducationZOAADRA and the Burma Education Partnership, together with local community organisations, can all play a bigger part. The appetite to help is there. For example, Sir Fazle Abed, the head of BRAC – who have built hundreds of low-cost schools around the world – has kindly offered BRAC’s services in Burma.  We all must come together to create a plan to achieve education for all in Burma.

That plan should help ensure that every child in Burma is in primary school by 2015. It must also ensure that those children who are refugees in Thailand are properly supported, and that this support continues until every child has returned home. Those not in secondary school must attend school and stay there. Burma’s education system should also be reformed so that a new curriculum – inclusive to Burma’s many ethnicities – is developed. And the plan should also see the government investing more of its country’s own wealth in its young people.

So let us not just give the people of Burma hope of a better future. Let us guarantee them a better future, by ensuring that every child has the chance to develop the skills that Burma will need if it is to be a twenty-first century success story. The best gift we can give Aung San Suu Kyi – who has shown much courage – is to help make sure that by 2015 every child in Burma is at school.

Download our note on the educational challenges facing Burma by clicking here.

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