Rote learning education system puts boys in ‘liquor houses’: Suu Kyi

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to students at a at a youth literature discussion at Mandalay University on Aug. 11, 2018. Photo: State Counsellor Office

Myanmar’s memorization-based education system is leading to rising numbers of boys who do not complete high school, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said at a youth literature discussion at Mandalay University on Saturday.

“I want to know how we can make boys more interested in education, school education, and university education. Girls listen to what they are told, and when asked to learn by heart, they learn it, so they get more marks in examinations,” said the state counsellor.

“I’m worried for the boys,” she said. “The number of boys not finishing high school is rising. This is not good for our country.”

As a solution, Suu Kyi proposed encouraging more male students to pursue vocational training instead of university in order to fulfill the country’s needs.

“University education has practical use as well as not having practical use. For example, I’m very much interested in history, but we should not produce many history teachers only. Even history teachers wouldn’t be able to answer the question of how history could support your livelihood,” she said.

“I would at least be relieved if more men are then attending vocational training. But this is not the case, and I’m worried for youngsters who drop out of schools. Where do they end up? In the teashop, or did they move on to liquor houses? I don’t want them lost in this way, as this would be a loss for our country, too,” she said.

Myanmar classrooms through the high school level are notorious for reliance on repetition and memorization as metrics for learning – a system that fails to instill understanding of subjects and leaves students bored, leading to drop-outs. Those who remain in the system report being unprepared once they enter the workforce.

Suu Kyi, who held the post of education minister briefly after taking control over the civilian side of Myanmar’s government in 2016, has frequently voiced a desire to change this system. At an education seminar in Naypyidaw last December, she said rote memorization in the education system must be replaced with a “rationalization-based system.”

Her comments came a week after the Economist blasted Myanmar’s “awful schools” as well as reforms introduced by the state counsellor for their lack of consultation with students and teachers.

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