Children in Myanmar are facing an unprecedented crisis - Children of the Mekong

Children in Myanmar are facing an unprecedented crisis

The number of children out of school in Myanmar has more than doubled in two years, with about half of the country’s children now missing out on a formal education amidst COVID-19 school closures and escalating insecurity. 

In Myanmar, enrolment in schools has dropped by up to 80% in two years in some parts of the country, with at least 7.8 million children out of school. This comes after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of places of learning globally in early 2020. Schools were fully or partially closed for months due to the pandemic. Attacks on schools, teachers and students have surged over the past year due to the conflict, leaving many of them scared to return to the classroom, and in some cases, with no schools left to attend.  

There were at least 260 recorded attacks on schools between May 2021 and April 2022, with explosions in and around school buildings accounting for nearly three-quarters of the incidents. Explosive devices were discovered at four schools or education offices, and three explosions happened in the proximity of schools. There were also 33 recorded cases of schools or education offices being set on fire, and 10 direct attacks on teachers and education staff. 

In March and April alone this year, 10 incidents in which schools were occupied by armed actors were recorded. The actual number of school occupations across the country is likely to be much higher. 

Kyi (not her real name), 14, from Magway Region, Myanmar, said: “I haven’t been to school since they closed due to COVID. I was a Grade 6 student before COVID. Due to the fighting, and unstable situation, teachers didn’t go back to our school and the village. There have been no teachers in my village since the fighting began. I think they have also had to flee and hide in a safe place like us due to the fighting. I now live in a temporary tent in a jungle after fleeing from my village. My dream is to be a businesswoman. My family’s small grocery store inspired the idea. I am unhappy and so sad when I think about my future. To become my dream, I think I must study hard and need better learning opportunities. I want to learn English, I want to learn other things at school, and I want to meet with my friends and teachers. It has been a long time since I have had a chance to meet with them.”  

 

Quoting Emma Wagner, head of Education Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children, a leading humanitarian organisation for children, “It’s really shocking that so many children are out of school, but when you think about it, it should come as no surprise. The COVID-19 pandemic propelled a worldwide education emergency for children. We raised the alarm early on that children were at risk of dropping out of school altogether due to being forced into labour or early marriage. In Myanmar, the conflict has created a perfect storm for the country’s children. Every one of these attacks on schools is an attack on the future of an entire generation of Myanmar children, who are missing out on the opportunity to learn. That’s something that we absolutely cannot and must not accept. We need to see an immediate end to attacks on schools.” 

The UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been urged to take concrete action to protect the futures of children in Myanmar. 

“The international community must take concerted, immediate measures to stem the spiral of violence in Myanmar, where the military has engaged in systematic and widespread human rights violations and abuses – some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said. 

The report concluded Myanmar’s military and security forces had shown a flagrant disregard for human life, bombarding populated areas with airstrikes and heavy weapons and deliberately targeting civilians, many of whom have been shot in the head, burned to death, arbitrarily arrested, tortured or used as human shields. Citing the determination of Myanmar’s people in their opposition to the coup, Bachelet called on the international community to do all it can to resolve the crisis and hold perpetrators of gross violations of international human rights law accountable. 

Karen children going to work, Myanmar
Children are going to work in the fields with their parents. No school for them.

Myanmar desperately needs more humanitarian assistance from the international community, with the UN humanitarian response plan having just 10.4% of the funding needed. 

Here at Children of the Mekong, we have decided to launch the Informal Classes Programme, providing education outside of state-run programmes. This programme involves 6,300 students and 300 teachers in 29 locations. 

Between January and October 2022, 6,300 students from primary school through to secondary, along with 300 teachers, will benefit from this project which covers 29 different locations. The ultimate aim of the project is to  prepare children and youths to return to the classroom when the school system reverts back to normalcy.  

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Holistic education will be the emphasis of these informal classes. Teachers will give classes every day of the week. They will teach academic subjects (Burmese, English, and Mathematics). In places equipped with computers, an additional course on introduction to computers will be incorporated. The students’ afternoons will be scheduled with music, art and crafts, and sports. Given the current political developments in Myanmar, we will also introduce a module on emergency response and incorporate supplementary courses such as nature and the environment, peace education, as well as values of education. 

We still need donations to support this informal classes programme, and you can contribute to make a difference in the lives of the Burmese children.  

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Children attending class in Karen State, Myanmar
Schoolchildren in the jungle in the Karen State.
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