Quality education is essential for a country to alleviate poverty. That is why this week, a delegation from the Union Parliament of Myanmar visited South Africa to learn more about education policy, as they strive to push for landmark reforms.

South Africa has faced its own challenges over the last few decades as the apartheid system was dismantled. For the Burmese delegation of 17 MPs and 2 parliamentary staff which visited with the support of WFD and DFID, there were a lot of lessons to take back home.

Myanmar has already taken several steps towards reforming education domestically. Under a new government plan for education which was introduced in 2016, the first ever public committee hearings in the Burmese Parliament took place earlier this year, providing accountability and scrutiny to new policies. The hearings were convened by the education committees which, along with Parliament, can play a critical role monitoring government education policy and ensuring reforms are implemented as intended.

Now, Burmese MPs are studying legislation from other countries as they seek to learn more about different types of parliamentary procedure and how they could be implemented.

 

Chair of Education Committee in Myanmar visits a South African School
(Photo: Chairwoman of the upper house Education Committee, Daw Naw Mya Say, visits Springfield Convent School, Cape Town)

The visit is part of a wider programme implemented by WFD and funded by the Department for International Development to help the Parliament of Myanmar develop effective ways to hold government to account and engage citizens in law-making.

The delegation which visited South Africa was led by upper house Committee Chairwoman Daw Naw Mya Say and by lower house Committee Secretary U Khan Khan Thang. Both of them have a background in education policy: Daw Naw Mya Say worked as a school inspector, school principal and regional education officer for 34 years.

Workshops, meetings and fact-finding visits took place at the National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa, the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and a local school in the outskirts of South Africa’s legislative capital, Cape Town. During the visit, legislators found that Myanmar, in its 8th year since the end of military rule, and South Africa, in its 25th year since the end of Apartheid, face common challenges in engaging citizens and providing quality education for all. Both countries have a diverse population of a similar size, divided by language, religion, ethnicity and uneven levels of development and available public services.

(Photo: The delegation from the Union Parliament of Myanmar pause for a photo with a statue of Nelson Mandela) 

With the Myanmar parliamentary education committee currently focused on reviewing the national curriculum and on raising the standard of education, the South African experience – reviewing the post-apartheid curriculum while raising standards in the schools of deprived areas – proved particularly insightful.

The proportion of men and women in the Western Cape Provincial Assembly was particularly admired due to its gender balance and the institute of the Shadow Cabinet, with official opposition ministers appointed to match each government minister for every policy portfolio, is one that Daw Naw Mya Say thought would be beneficial to have in Myanmar too.

Meetings with senior South African politicians included National Shadow Education Minister Ms. Nomsa Marchesi, Western Cape Assembly Speaker Sharna Fernandez and Deputy Speaker Piet Pretorius.

Observing South African democracy in action (state-wide and provincial elections will be held on 8 May) was also interesting for the delegation. Myanmar MPs quizzed South African legislators on the practicalities of working with a regional and national assembly with different political majorities: a situation that might happen in the future between regional and national legislatures in Myanmar, given the current move towards a more devolved federal system ahead of the general election in 2020.

Member of Myanmar Education Committee engages with student
(Photo: Education committee members from Myanmar engage with students at Springfield Convent School, Cape Town) 

The delegation heard from education experts including Mike Wilter and Clive Roos, Springfield Convent headteacher Keith Richardson and were joined by former MP and education policy expert Neil Carmichael from the United Kingdom, who has been leading work with the education committee in Myanmar since early 2018.

Evidence gathered during the visit will be used to inform the future work of the committees and a report to parliament on the new curriculum and teacher training programmes. Myanmar MPs are also committed to sharing lessons learned with their colleagues on other committees in the country’s legislature.

Hopefully these lessons will help the Union Parliament of Myanmar to progress their reforms to education policy and parliamentary procedure, as part of its broader work in pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.