December 22, 2014


Written by Karina Ufert – SPARK Programme Manager, Myanmar

“Do you know which skills the Myanmar society and employers expect from your graduates?” – this was one of the many group exercises, which participants were solving during the training activity, organized by SPARK in Thanlyin, East Yangon. This training was designed by the request of the five universities and colleges, which fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Cooperatives of Myanmar. It spanned over 5 days and covered themes like curriculum design, entrepreneurship and research culture. The training gathered together 45 people, senior academic and administrative staff from the University of Sagaing and Thanlyin and Colleges from Mandalay, Phaunggyi and Lacquerware.


The participants were well aware of the skills demand which poses a real challenge for the country, a fragile state which is making its first steps towards functioning democracy and market economy. According to the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the lack of well-qualified individuals is one of the biggest challenges for developing both public and particularly private sector. Despite there being over 170 Universities and colleges in Myanmar, the Comprehensive Education Sector Review reports that only around 471,000 students were registered for attending higher education in 2012 – the numbers, of those who actually managed to graduate are still to be confirmed .


While low tertiary education attainment rates among Myanmar youth are a serious issue to tackle on a structural level, what happens in the classroom is another topic for consideration. Educational institutions in Myanmar are primarily reproducing the facts, leaving little space to train skills beyond memorisation. Interestingly, academic staff, which participated in the training, was quite specific about desired skills as being problem solving, communication, critical thinking and digital literacy. The question – which became the hot topic of the teacher training – is in what ways should the education system change to embrace a shift to competence-based learning.



First and foremost, the people in charge of designing and delivering education process must be aware about the outcomes they want to achieve. Achieving desired outcomes require a holistic approach towards programme design, its building blocks (subjects), teaching, and evaluation methods. Perhaps equally important, is that students themselves are aware that outcomes-based learning requires different attitudes to the learning process; it means more independent learning, working in groups, combining studying and practical experience in the form of internships. Unfortunately, in practice this process is not easy to achieve – for example in many countries in Central and South Eastern Europe, educational shift takes decades.


The purpose of the training was not to offer a ‘silver bullet’ in a form of best practice from abroad. On the contrary, the organizers put participants on the spot, asking questions, inspiring long-term thinking. There was also space for sharing international experiences on what works and what doesn’t. Marilou Gatchalian from Miriam College, technical advisor for the UNESCO Entrepreneurship in Education (EE-Net) National chapter in the Philippines and an experienced educator in social entrepreneurship, presented her work and gave some practical recommendations regarding educational reforms to her peers in Myanmar.


Entrepreneurship is a hot topic now in Myanmar. With new economic opportunities and (slowly) growing support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), more and more people are considering starting their business in the region. But for businesses to grow, it is not enough to have a brilliant idea, but also right skills (e.g. financial literacy). Both SPARK and Miriam College from the Philippines shared their know-how on mainstreaming entrepreneurship in formal education curriculum. For Thanlyin University, one of 5 participating institutions, this concept is not a novelty. For the past couple years, the university has been partnering with businesses and NGOs to provide insights about labour market demands as well as organizing open lectures about starting your own business. During the training, universities and colleges also discussed how they can support knowledge and practice transfer among them.



Fostering a research culture was an additional topic for the seminar, requested by the education institutions themselves. Right now, many universities in Myanmar want to embrace research and development paths, and in this way contribute to solving local problems and supporting technology transfer. This is not an easy task considering the weak research capacity, particularly in the peripheral universities. SPARK invited two experts from M2 Academy (Singapore), Stephen Kelly and Jennifer Scott, who both have an impressive track record in successfully introducing the concept of shared services, where education institutions are given a prominent role in local development. Participants in the training then took part in a practical task where they formed simulative research groups and developed a research proposal, relevant for their community. External experts provided feedback on participants’ proposals and offered online coaching for those who want to bring their proposal to the implementation stage.


Five days is a very short period to “solve” issues in a single educational institution let alone overcome all problems facing higher education in Myanmar. Nevertheless participants shared that the workshops were helpful in achieving a better understanding of the concept of learning outcomes and calculating the workload. Many reforms will have to wait until a proper legislative framework regarding higher education autonomy is in place, but some quick “fixes” can already be introduced in the new semester. For example, assessing the English level among students in order to offer extra tutoring hours will make a difference for students who find it difficult to catch up with subject material (most subjects are taught in English, but only few students master the language fluently). Another important conclusion is building networks; SPARK and other international partners who joined the debate were impressed by the hunger for knowledge among the participants and will place efforts to support schools after the training is completed. “Next, we want to have a discussion with our students, about what kind of education they want” – were the closing remarks from the Director of the Thanlyin University. It sounds revolutionary, now it’s time to take steps to realise this change.

SPARK IGNITE is SPARK’s blog of stories, updates and opinions by SPARK staff, on relevant topics in the news, stories from the fields, and what inspire us to do what we do.  We welcome external contributions; to contribute please contact media[at]