As part of an effort to meet changing labour market requirements brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Myanmar is harnessing private sector investment to develop its vocational and technical education system. Speaking at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2018 summit in September 2018 in Hanoi, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stated that greater investment in skills-based training will be necessary to close the skills gap with more developed countries. “We have to be prepared for the 4IR with the right knowledge and skills,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said. “The education system of a country is crucial in how we face the challenges of our times, but we also need to shift the emphasis in education to practical skills rather than just academic qualifications.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also highlighted the need for increased efforts to nurture creativity and innovation as a means to boost domestic entrepreneurship.
Bridging the Skills Gap
That same month, the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office released its annual report on the country, which suggested that Myanmar needs to expand its educational offering by emphasising the vocational training that would provide the necessary skills and know-how to ensure sustainable long-term development. According to the report, improvements in training for manufacturing workers and further market-orientated reforms of the country’s education system will be essential for Myanmar to take advantage of the 4IR and move up the value chain.
Improved vocational training is particularly significant for the growing garment industry, which is one of the country’s leading export sectors, generating $2.2bn in the first half of FY 2018/19, which began on April 1, 2018. The country’s burgeoning tourism industry is also struggling to find employees that are sufficiently trained in foreign languages and hospitality. Furthermore, financial services are experiencing a shortfall of trained banking professionals. According to the Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs Association, the construction sector is facing a similar shortage of skilled tradesmen, who are needed for the ongoing overhaul of Myanmar’s infrastructure and housing.
Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs that the government is recognising and expanding its vocational training offering for the sectors and services that are key to the country’s continued development. “The government is trying to change the common mindset that a university degree is necessary to find a job by creating holiday education centres and providing occupational training,” U Kyaw Htin Latt, CEO of education, health care and retail services provider Seezar Soesan, told OBG. “And in the process, Myanmar is diversifying its education sector to meet the real needs of the country.”
Open Door to Private Sector
Faced with budgetary constraints, the government is increasingly looking to the private sector to achieve its education and training goals. In April 2018 the Myanmar Investment Commission, which is responsible for verifying and approving investment proposals, formally granted authorisation for full ownership rights to foreign investors in private education. This reform includes vocational and technical institutions, but stipulates that schools must either teach the syllabus established by the Ministry of Education or an equivalent international curriculum.
Following the announcement, a number of new educational institutions have been established, and more global education service providers have expressed interest in investing in Myanmar. In June 2018 Kaplan Myanmar University College, a subsidiary of US educational programme provider Kaplan, opened a new campus in Yangon that offers university degree programmes, professional certifications, MBA programmes and other courses. Furthermore, the overseas development vehicle Korea International Cooperation Agency is currently building a teacher-training college for technical and vocational educators. Work on the $12m Yangon facility broke ground in May, and the institute is set to accept its first trainee teachers in late 2019.
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