Number of students taking key exam has plunged amid war in Myanmar

Fighting, blocked roads and poor economy have all contributed to a 87% drop in high school exam-takers.
By RFA Burmese
2024.03.18
Number of students taking key exam has plunged amid war in Myanmar Students wait to take the high school matriculation exam in Botahtaung township in Myanmar's Yangon region, March 11, 2024.
RFA

The number of high school students registered to take a key exam in Myanmar has plummeted nearly 87% from the academic year before the military took control in a February 2021 coup d’etat, showing the devastating impact of war on education.

This year, more than 146,500 students registered for the military-administered university entrance examination held at 841 test centers across the nation and abroad, according to a March 13 report by Global New Light of Myanmar, an online news outlet, citing Ministry of Education figures.  

During the 2019-20 academic year, when the civilian-led National League for Democracy was still in power, nearly 970,800 students registered for the test, also called the matriculation examination, a benchmark for the country’s educated workforce for decades. 

About 128,725 students out of those who registered sat for the English subject test on March 12, the second day of the exam period, which runs Mar. 11-19, though nearly 17,800 others didn’t show up for the exam, the report said.

Under a new education system curriculum, students complete separate tests in several subjects, including Burmese, English, mathematics, chemistry, geography, physics, history, biology, economics and social science.

Conscription law

The development comes amid an exodus of young people following the ruling junta’s announcement of a conscription law in February to increase military manpower in the face of numerous battlefield defeats and large-scale surrenders in recent months during Myanmar’s civil war. 

Young people are applying for visas to go to Thailand or contemplating becoming monks, as the junta looks to recruit up to 50,000 men and women this year, Radio Free Asia reported earlier.

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When RFA contacted Kyaw Swar Thwin, director general of the Department of Basic Education and a member of the junta’s press team, for comment, he claimed to have no knowledge of the current absentee test-taker situation.

But parents and teachers said fighting between the military and rebel forces has kept students away from the exams, while others point to the sluggish economy.

Test administrators in Kayah state, where fighting is intense, could not open exam centers. 

Similarly, in Chin state, more than 1,300 registered students did not take the exam, according to a list issued by the military council.

‘No one dares’

A parent of a student from Khaikam in the state’s Tedim township, told RFA that students could not sit for the university entrance exams because residents, including students and teachers, had fled with their families to escape the armed conflict.

“No one dares to enter the city right now,” he said, adding that those who already left have yet to return to Khaikam.

In Rakhine state, another conflict-ridden region, 18,602 youths were registered for the exam, but more than half – some 10,071 – didn’t show up, according to the junta’s list.  

The lack of security and blocked roads and waterways were key reasons, said a resident of Kyaukphyu in Rakhine.  “There are many people who are uncomfortable coming for exams,” he said, asking not to be identified.

Those taking the exams must carry a flag with the emblem of the Ministry of Education, he said. If they don’t, the junta soldiers might “do something,” he said. “Many parents are concerned. Consequently, a significant number of people opt out of taking the exams altogether.”

With the stagnating economy, some young people are prioritizing work over study, said a high school teacher in Yangon’s Mingaladon township.

“When the parents were a little easier with the economic situation, children could continue their education,” the teacher said. “But some children have stopped attending school due to a lack of interest in education.”

Translated by Kalyar Lwin for RFA Burmese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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