Following an optional pre-school period, children enter primary school for 5 compulsory years. To proceed further they must successfully write a comprehensive examination in basic academic subjects. Many disadvantaged ones in poorer areas simply fail to succeed.
The first phase of secondary education takes place at middle schools. where students pass through grades 6 to 8 before they write their standard eight examinations. The educational system is generally corrupt, with seats in better schools often reserved for children of those with government connections.
High school students entering at grade 9 may choose either an arts or science stream. All study Myanmar, English and mathematics. Arts students also study geography, history and economics, while science students concentrate on chemistry, physics and biology instead. At the end of this period students at government schools may sit for their university entrance examinations. However those at private English schools may not.
Vocational training, which is largely in the hands of the private sector has become popular among young people wanting to enter the hospitality, tourism, beauty, fashion, nursing or engineering sectors. It acts as a bridge to better jobs for those with little or no work experience.
Myanmar is well endowed with universities where the widest range of courses may be followed. However academic freedom remains constrained, and students may not speak freely, or write and publish freely either.
The oldest tertiary institution is Yangon (Rangoon) University founded in 1878. It has been at the center of civil discontent throughout its history. Notwithstanding this, women’s halls of residence are strictly limited which filters out many promising female students from the countryside.