Teachers in rural areas of Myanmar earn lower wages, travel long distance and work in the fields before and after class.
Before headmaster Saw Htoo Shee walks into the classroom he needs to work here in the paddy fields.
And when he gets home after a day’s teaching, he doesn't mark tests or devise lesson plans – he’s back out in the fields.
He has spent 18 years building his teaching career but has had to work two jobs.
“My family has many people in it. I am over 40. I have four elder sisters. My father is 86 and mother is 84. To support their health, I have to work in paddy fields.”
Myanmar’s school system is in urgent need of reform. The government spends just 5.8 percent of the national budget on education. Schools in rural areas are significantly worse off than those in the cities.
There is a lack of supplies, often the school buildings are little more than huts, and it’s tough to find adequate teachers who will work for the meager pay. Once in the job it’s difficult to get promoted, elementary teacher Irrawaddy Delta, Htew Htew says.
“During the training, our teachers said we can apply for higher position after three years of work and we may get higher position. I aimed to become a headmistress of a high school. It has been 6 years so far, and I have not yet been promoted.”
The opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has an educational reform network in place. Thein Lwin who sits on the committee says the teachers’ salary in rural areas needs to be increased.
“I can understand the difficulties that teachers working in rural areas face. As the education budget is low, they don’t get enough salary. The community can’t support the teachers either as they are poor farmers.”
In rural Myanmar, the lack of transportation and adequate roads makes access to many villages difficult.
Myint Shwe, Rural Teacher says, the teachers and students often have a long and arduous journey to get to school everyday.
“It is different from the schools in urban areas. We have to use land transport as well as boat transport. It is more difficult here.”
And the lack of transport means the teachers can’t travel to the cities for training. “After 18 years in the job, we can apply for a Bachelor of Education [postgraduate degree. We want to become high school teachers. But it is even difficult to travel for one or two weeks to the city. There are economic constraints as well.”
“A teacher needs continuous learning and needs to attend training. The teachers in rural areas don’t have these opportunities. When reforming the education sector, there should be arrangements for these teachers to have opportunities to learn more, to get master degrees,” Thein Lwin says.
The Minister for Information, Ye Htut, says the government is spending more money on education than they have in previous years. And they plan to increase the spending over the coming years as well.
The money will go towards free education, overseas training for teachers and building schools. But even with an increased budget, if the money isn't used effectively, the school system, especially in rural areas won’t improve.