Going retour today from Sittwe back to Yangon.  A few words about kids, schools,  and education in Myanmar.

Despite promises, the internet at the Noble Hotel in Sittwe was not working; not last night, not this morning.  But I had a pleasant, air conditioned rest, a good breakfast, and processed some of the photos I have taken over the last few weeks.  Overall, I guess this is progress as a couple of years ago there was not even such a thing as wifi in these hotels.  Now there is, except it only works occasionally.  I wonder what the cause is.  Electricity can’t be it as everything else in this nice and friendly hotel is working.

Kids are kids everywhere.  They goof around, tease people, fight, laugh.  The unlucky ones around here have poor parents and will either die early of a disease or work hard from early on.  The lucky ones have richer parents, which promises an educated and a better future for them.  But everywhere in Myanmar the kids have been friendly, curious, and open.  They wave, pose for pictures — at times demanding to be photographed — and very occasionally, some have been begging but only half-heartedly, as they immediately stop when you shake your head.

The kids I have seen on the streets in cities and villages don’t have many toys.  Mostly you see them play with each other or play soccer.  That seems to be a favorite sport around here.  The soccer fields are usually uneven makeshift grassy areas with more or less trash strewn over them.  It does not seem to bother anyone.  The kids walk around and play soccer barefoot.  I don’t know how they run around when I, the pampered Westerner, carefully calculate every step when I have to walk on gravel, rocks, or other unprocessed surfaces…

The older kids seem to have favorite hangout areas, like in remote temple areas where they sit and smoke.   Many of the teenagers and up seem to have motorbikes.  I was told that they are not expensive.  But I know for sure that the gas they need to put in costs as much as in the US and that is expensive!

The school buildings I have seen are everything from small huts, older crumbling colonial buildings, or small but new looking concrete houses which seem to be built by UNICEF.  Many of the younger children carry UNICEF notebooks and UNICEF marked backpacks.  That certainly is encouraging.

One school proudly displayed a sign in both English and Burmese:  Drug-free School!  That obviously indicates an underlying problem that has been tackled in at least this school; or more carefully put: it is being addressed.  I have not seen obviously intoxicated people, neither adults nor children.

Kids have school uniforms sold everywhere; typically green and white.  But I have also seen red and white, and blue and white and wonder if those perhaps are for private or religious (e.g. Christian) schools. There must be an understanding that kids need to go to school but it seems to be only loosely enforced judging by all the child labor one can observe everywhere.

I have asked everyone of my motorcycle, trishaw, or taxi drivers how many years of schooling they had and if they are planning on going on with higher education.  The answer has varied from 4 to 8 years.  Only one, Tommy the Christian boy taking me to the Shwezigon, was affirmative in his desire and plans for higher education.  Wingo, the Muslim boy who worked for the Breeze in Mawlamyine, stopped going to school 8 years ago when he started to make a living driving around his motorbike.  In some cases parents of these boys have died young of malaria, car accidents or other causes.  Again and again I heard from mid-20-year-old drivers that they don’t have parents anymore.

Most of the time I had contact with boys.  I wonder if the story of the girls differs and how.

Wingo and I ran into one of his friends and he pointed out to me that his friend was in school, but that he, Wingo, could speak more English than his friend.  I had to laugh as he was obviously using this as an excuse to justify to me why he was not in school and had no intentions of going back.

School is starting now in Myanmar, during the rainy season.  We were told that kids go to school starting at 4 PM in the afternoon.  That must be for the fact that no school I have seen has air conditioning.  Last night I passed a small, open room full of older students who were learning English.  The teacher saw me peeking in and came out to greet me.  He told me how important it is for the developing Myanmar that people are more educated.  I congratulated him on doing his part in that.  He would have been a great person to hang out and talk to.  English is spoken by most people here only to some very limited extent.  Even the English-speaking guide we hired in Mrauk U was hard to understand.  Half the time I had to guess if he was speaking about a palace, a father, or a burial.  It all sounded the same to me and at best could be figured out in context…  Much, much needs to be done.

And now I am off to the airport.

See you tomorrow for another day of sightseeing in Yangon, if there is no rain…

3 comments so far

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  1. Had thought, when you had been seen peeking, that you might go into the classroom and talk with the children. I could just have pictured their smiles and the stories they would have taken home. We treasured so an education in my family. My father had to quit school after eighth grade to work on the farm and he was so proud to have his children go to college – what a gift of love.

  2. Hey ET,
    Recently, Saturday, June 6 to be exact, the New York Times carried a front page headline ‘Profits of drug trade drive economic boom in Myanmar’. You know I love the Times and whether or not one believes it, it was a very interesting article referring to the seed capital of what is behind some of the big hotels and projects, etc. in Yangon.
    A drug-free school is an important step and the fact that you would be in a place that is on the front page……..shocking!!! I’ll save it for you.
    Still reading your blog in A2,
    xo Celi

    • How interesting, Celibeth. Especially, since there is the death penalty for any drug offenses in Myanmar. Incredible (if the NYT is right, and I am sure they did their research)!