June 12, 2017

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Thoughts on Reading Three Articles Concerning Burmese/Myanmar Education Forty-four Years Apart

By Dr. Myint Zan

Miasma Over Education II
(a)    Quotas in Pass Rates from Primary to High School Exams?

In the above sentence the phrase ‘if there are not enough students (quota of students) who passed the exams’ is added by yours truly. Surely any (?) Minister of Educations whether in the 1970s, 1980s, State Law and Order Restoration Council and State Peace and Development Council regimes and  those who served in the former President U Thein Sein’s  as well as the current government would not expect all students from all schools from primary to high schools to pass the examinations? However, it seems quite likely that if not the Ministers of Education themselves then at least some middle to upper ranking educational authorities wants, no, perhaps require, indeed mandate that some quotas need to be fulfilled in the pass rate of students up to and especially the government-held exams like the Matriculations.

Miasma Over Education II
(b) Doctorate Holders in the Thousands (if Not Already Approaching) Ten Thousand In Around 15 Years  Since Doctorates Were Started to be Awarded
From conversations I have had with University teachers from a few disciplines this ‘quota’ or projected number of passes is equally applicable also for the Ph.D.  award of doctorates in various disciplines. I have been informed, independently, by at least three academic staff working in different subjects in Myanmar Universities that even when candidates are unworthy of being awarded the highest degree there were, at least in the past, ‘pressures’ or at least strong persuasions that in a certain year a certain number of doctorate holders must be produced.
I learned around 2014 that in Myanmar language and literature alone there are five hundred doctorate holders! That is comparatively still ‘sparse’ compared to the discipline of physics where as of December 2015 I was reliably informed that about 1200 doctorate holders in physics were produced! Admittedly, most of these Ph.D. degrees were awarded during the time of the ‘previous’ SLORC and SPDC regimes where quantity of say percentage of matriculates and the number of ‘doctorate holders’ were the sole criteria of ‘success’ of how high the government’s educational achievements are and how they meet and ‘exceed’ the Association of Asian Nations’ (ASEAN’s) standards. A few Myanmar students and staff have informed the writer that this numeric and percentage quotas are stipulated to keep in line with ‘ASEAN standards’.

Miasma Over Education II
(c)    Quotas in Matriculation Exams: 12 Marks (Not Forty Marks) out of One Hundred Marks as ‘Pass Marks’ in Matriculation Exams in the English Paper
In 1999 an English language teacher who was involved in marking Matriculation English papers informed me that during that time in the Matriculation exams if a student obtained 29 marks out of 100 marks in the compulsory English language paper then the student marks are increased to 40 marks (pass marks). But needless to say, if a student got 40 marks or 41 marks by himself or herself so to speak not even a mark (far less 11 marks) are added. That is, I was informed, to meet the ‘quota’ of meeting of 40% (?) of the students to pass the Matriculation perhaps to meet ASEAN ‘standards’?
But it even gets better or worse, really.  Only recently I have been informed by another educational personnel that around 2009 (admittedly even before the previous administration) that the ‘order’ (I do not know from where it originated from) was that if a student obtained 12 marks out of 100 (you read it correctly – 12 twelve marks out of 100) in the English paper that 12 marks is to be transformed into 40 marks so that the candidate would pass the paper.  Hence those who obtained only 12 marks out of 100 marks in English may well pass the Matriculation exams. The late Saya Tet Toe wrote in June 1973 that publishing the names, photos, profiles and brief interviews of the two or three all-rounded distinction matriculates amounted to ‘Miasma over Education’.
Dr. Nu Nu Win in her article of June 2017 wrote that if ‘ I use the word “slaves” I could have gone too far’ (in describing the condition of some of the High School teachers). This writer could or might also have gone too far when the query is made whether Saya Tet Toe would have ‘rolled’ in his grave if he were privy to some of the information above.
I should write though and paraphrasing the late philosopher Bertrand Russell in one of his essays in his book Portraits from Memory if one aspect of the then Burmese education is, according to Saya Tet Toe, miasmic then ‘language could have failed’ him to describe the sorry state of affairs that had occurred at least since the 1990s until recently in mar king Matriculation exams. (I specifically disavowed any knowledge of the marking situation in English or in other subjects this year 2017 or in post-2011 situations).

Miasma Over Education II
(d) English Language Skills of Law Graduates and those who Got Distinctions in English in the English language in the Matriculation Exams
A niece of mine who graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree around the year 2010 (she matriculated  around the time of ‘raising’ 12 marks into 40 marks in the English language paper but to be fair she must have passed the exam without such ‘assistance’ since she mentioned that she got about 44 marks perhaps all by herself) cannot translate the simple Burmese phrase KYAUN GO KWAY LIKE SANN (‘Feed the cat!’)  into English. She got KYAUN as ‘cat’ and even though I gave her more than five minutes to translate that simple Burmese phrase into a simple English phrase she could not do so. In addition to the LL.B. she also has a Diploma in Business Law (DBL) from the University of Yangon.
Another Higher Grade Pleader who graduated a few years after her also cannot translate that Burmese phrase into English. In April 2017 I met a 2016
Matriculate who obtained distinction in English and Burmese (Myanmar language paper) who did attempt to translate that phrase Since I asked him beside  my  cousin-in-law’s  hospital bed.
I could not write his ‘translation’ on a piece of paper for lack of easy access then to pen and paper. He said something like this QUOTE ‘ovitiime’ ?  the cat UNQUOTE. After much discussion I gradually realised that perhaps the Myanmar phrase SANN (‘order’) he had translated as ‘obedience’ (with wrong spelling) and he seemed to concentrate on the word SANN (imperative word?) than on the KYWAY (‘feed’) the cat. In a sense two lawyers (higher grade pleaders) cannot translate a simple Myanmar phrase into English. And one Burmese and English distinction holder in the Matriculation ‘valiantly’ tried but failed to accomplish what to them seem to be a gargantuan task.
Two more examples in the ‘law field’ can and have to be given here. In 2005 I met at a camera shop a salesgirl who was then in her first year of ‘law correspondence courses’. I asked her what the phrase ‘legal education’ means. She knew the meaning of either ‘legal’ or ‘education’ not both and she could not translate that phrase into Myanmar.  The general state of ‘legal education’ is such that I am sure she has quite a few years ago obtained the LLB degree even if she may now not necessarily be a lawyer. (I have learned that quite a few those who obtained the LLB degree by the correspondence courses did not even bother to do their ‘chambering’ with lawyers and did not even bother to apply for a lawyer’s license).
In the year 2005 also I met a hotel receptionist who had already got her LLB degree and who could not explain to me in Myanmar language (not  n English) ‘What is Administrative Law?. I asked that question because I saw an assignment (also in 2005) which asked in English the same question and the then correspondent student just copied and pasted from the ‘ Correspondence course text books’ and out of context. The first sentence of her answer which she  ‘As a result….’.  To repeat she exactly copied some phrases in the Assignment booklet and reproduced in her Assignment. I recall that the marker takes about a minute to quickly browse through the Assignment  and ‘awarded’ the Assignment 18 out of 20 marks!
Around 2011 yet another law correspondence student told me that he had failed the correspondence course 12 times (twelve times) for the simple reason that he had asked his sister or another person to ‘copy’ from the Assignment booklets and since those who marked noticed that his handwriting apparently from the exam papers where he had to I suppose answer by himself is different from the handwriting in the Assignments he failed the course twelve consecutive times. At the time that I met him he is still being enrolled in that law correspondence course and was scheduled to attempt the exam for the 13th time! But I am sure that just as the camera shop receptionist correspondence course student who did not know what ‘legal education’ means he too, would have graduated with a LLB by now.
In 2005 also in the notice board at the Yangon University of Distance Education I saw that in Lower Myanmar alone there were about 50,000 students studying law in various Universities located in lower Myanmar. My guess is that since 1980 when the first batch of correspondence students in law graduated there would be well over 100,000 may be up to 200,000 law graduates from the ‘Law Correspondence Courses’.
Around 2014 I attended a Doctorate (in Law) paper-reading seminar (of a thesis that by regulation have to be written in English but the presentation is done mainly if not almost entirely in the Myanmar language except when the candidate reads from his draft thesis). The candidate did not distinguish and surely did not know the differences between the word ‘principle’ and ‘principal’ since in the draft thesis as well as during the presentation these words were used interchangeably. (The convener pointed out that ‘principal’ means KYAUNG OKE KYEE -Headmaster or Headmistress- but it also means ‘main’.) I do not recall the names of these three law correspondence students as well as the doctoral candidate in law but I am quite sure, almost certain that all of them have now (safely) got their degrees

‘Sitting By the Sides and Stating Awkward Things’ and the Need for Knowledge as well as Acknowledgement
It might be objected that I am, as the Myanmar saying goes,  BAE HTAING BU PWA ‘sitting by the side and saying awkward things or ‘mouthing’ uncomfortable facts’. But I am also generally curious to what extent do ‘starting from down’ Amay Su (State Counsellor and for about a week in April 2016 also Education Minister) Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other educational authorities know about these facts (or not).
I guess that Dr. Nu Nu Win and other educational authorities would be privy to information about the matriculation exam marking anomalies or shenanigans (which I trust had occurred only in the past). But knowledge of certain facts or situation or ‘true events’ is one thing and official acknowledgment is another as pointed out by philosopher Thomas Nagel.
The Chief Editor of the Global New Light of Myanmar suggested,-in fact I can say almost encouraged- me to write on educational matters since a few of my contributions are in his words ‘quite high level’ and apparently did not pass the ‘muster’ or receive the approval of relevant personnel (in addition to that of the Chief Editor).  When I informed the Chief Editor over the phone of what I intended to write based on and as an extension of the three articles on education that I read 44 years apart he encouraged me to do so.
The value of or at least arguable practice to adopt in a developing democracy is not to ‘swipe things under the carpet’ and pretend that ‘all is well and all is well’. Unfortunately that attitude and practice certainly was virtually the norm not only in educational affairs but in political, social and economic conditions of the country as espoused by most of the various governments of the past few decades.
In recent weeks I have seen even in the official newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar a few (but admittedly only a few) articles pointing out the inconvenient facts of past and yes -let’s not beat about the bush, but let’s face the facts squarely or even ‘seize them by the lapels’- current government’s policies and practices. By looking at things squarely–acknowledgments of the inconvenient facts-  we can try to modify or improve them to the extent that we can.  This article is written with this view and aim.


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