Myanmar is a multi-ethnic federal country. Due to historical and political reasons, since the colonial era, many borderlands are divided into regions to accommodate the majority Burmese group and other ethnic minorities so as to establish a mutual restrained effect among them.  This caused Myanmar a lot of political stability issues.  However, in the past decade, Myanmar is gradually opening its doors to the world.

There are as many as 135 recognized ethnic groups in Myanmar.  The major ethnic group is Bamar (68%).  Other ethnic minorities include Shan (9%), Kayin (7%), Yahain (3.5%), Mon (2%) and Kachin (1.5%).  In addition, there are early immigrants like Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshis. Myanmar’s official language is Burmese.  The ethnic minorities use their own languages.  Apart from the Chinese, Chinese language can also be used among the Northern ethnic minorities.

Chinese Schools – Sustaining the Chinese Culture

The Chinese education in Myanmar has suffered from many difficulties.

At the beginning of the independence of Myanmar, there were a large number of Chinese schools established by Chinese in Myanmar. Later in the 1960s, Chinese exclusion happened in Myanmar. The Chinese schools were forced to close. Trying to save these schools, the Chinese at that time claimed themselves as Kokant ethnic group.  As a result, Chinese schools, “disguised” as Kokant schools, were able to survive.

In the 1990s, under the acquiescence of the Myanmar government, Chinese schools were re-established in various places in Myanmar. Since the Chinese schools are not statutory schools, they can only use the “after school” time for lessons. Chinese students hence are having very hard time. They have to attend Chinese schools at 6 am and then go to their Burmese schools at 8 o’clock. When the Burmese schools ended, they then return to the Chinese schools to continue their study.  They also need to attend the Chinese schools during Burmese school holidays. With the appreciation of traditional Chinese culture, more and more Chinese persist in studying in Chinese schools.

Schools after the conflict

In 3 counties in an inland State southeast of Myanmar, live about 1.4million people.  Among them, 80% are of Kayin ethnic group.  The total number of Kayin people is about 6 million which is about 10% of the total population in Myanmar.  Kayin is the third largest ethnic group in Myanmar after the Bamar and Shan.  Mon State, one of Myanmar States, is located in the southern part of the country, west of Gulf of Mataban. The Salween River divides this State into the northern and southern parts.  It covers an area of 12,155 square kilometers and has a population of 2,466,000 to 8,466,000.

After the independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar is under the military regime most of the time.  The Kayin once formed an ethnic armed group (Kayin National Union ) to fight against the central government.  Initially, they sought for independence but later only demanded for federalism.  In January 2012, the Myanmar government signed a cease-fire agreement with the Kayin National Union in Hpa-An, the capital of Kayin State.  Since then, the conflict between Kayin people and the government was basically settled.  After Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party came to power in 2015, the government also implement a plan to bring peace to Myanmar.  People who fled to the mountains during the civil war gradually returned and settled in their original villages.

After the ceasefire, everything need to be re-established.  With a gradual growth in population in villages, there is an urgent demand for schools. In Nov 2017, Sowers Action visited Kayin and Mon States to evaluate the possibility of funding education related projects like building schools and students’ dormitories.  We hope that these projects will provide local children a safe and suitable environment for their study.