Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister of Australia, on educational aid: Viewpoint

Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister of Australia

During my first visit to Myanmar as Australia’s foreign minister, I have been inspired by the commitment of a wide cross-section of the population to the historic reform process under way. Australia supports this reform process and looks forward to Myanmar emerging as a true democracy that respects human rights and is inclusive of all its people.

Myanmar and Australia have deepened their bilateral ties in recent years and we are partnering in the areas of defence, law enforcement, education, health, agriculture and immigration. Australia’s aid programme will grow to A$90m ($81.6m) in 2014-15 and Australian businesses are increasingly engaged in Myanmar’s growing economy.

The Australian government has adopted “economic diplomacy” as a central platform of our foreign policy. Just as traditional diplomacy aims for peace, economic diplomacy aims for prosperity. This is an important pillar of our engagement in Myanmar and the Asia-Pacific region, where 90% of our development assistance is delivered.

Sustained growth and prosperity require an investment in a nation’s greatest resource: its people. The greater the number of years of schooling, the higher the household income, especially among women. Education is a key priority of Australian assistance and over the coming year we will invest more than A$1bn ($906.5m) on education globally.

We are one of the largest donors to Myanmar’s education sector, providing A$105m ($95.2m) over six years from 2012 to strengthen Myanmar’s education system. This support will promote early childhood development, help children attend primary and secondary school, and assist with education reform to improve learning at all levels.

While in Yangon I announced Australia’s new investment of A$25m ($22.7m) over the next four years to support the Myanmar government in improving education for children through its school grants and stipends programme. This will increase funding for 43,000 schools across the country, promote free education and deliver nationwide assistance directly to schools for much-needed education supplies, such as blackboards and teaching materials. Australia is also investing in teacher training colleges to better prepare Myanmar’s teachers to promote improved learning outcomes for all children.

Australia is helping to provide education to the 10% of children in Myanmar who do not have access to formal education due to conflict and other factors. About 75,000 of these children will now be able to go to school. In 2015 Australia will offer 50 long-term “Australia Awards” for Myanmar applicants to study in Australia. More than 100 of these have been awarded in the past four years. We are also supporting links between our world-class tertiary education institutions and Myanmar’s higher education.

Australia’s commitment to education and our engagement with our region is exemplified by our government’s New Colombo Plan (NCP), which will provide Australian undergraduates with the chance to undertake a wide range of study options in the Indo-Pacific region. I believe that Australian students should have a better understanding of Asia, including its languages, cultures and worldview. The NCP seeks to build new networks and relationships between Australia and our neighbours, and I am delighted that Myanmar has agreed to participate.

Australia is also supporting Myanmar in its chairmanship of ASEAN. This is a particularly important year for Australia and ASEAN as we mark the 40th anniversary of Australia-ASEAN relations. Myanmar is hosting a commemorative summit in November 2014 to celebrate this significant milestone.

Recognising the challenges Myanmar faces, Australia stands ready as a friend and partner to support Myanmar in education and trade and help build its future. The nation is on a road to reform and we hope it will emerge as a fully engaged regional partner, seeking peace and prosperity for its people.

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Julie Bishop

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The Report: Myanmar 2015

Health & Education chapter from The Report: Myanmar 2015

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The Report

This article is from the Health & Education chapter of The Report: Myanmar 2015. Explore other chapters from this report.