MYANMAR: Number of children out of school more than doubles in two years
The number of children out of school in Myanmar has more than doubled in two years, with about half of the country’s children now missing out on a formal education due to COVID-19 school closures and escalating insecurity, according to Save the Children.
Enrolment in schools has dropped by up to 80% in two years in some parts of the country, the aid organisation said, with at least 7.8 million children out of school [i].
This comes after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of places of learning globally in early 2020. In Myanmar, schools were fully or partially closed for 15 months due to the pandemic [ii].
Attacks on schools, teachers and students have surged over the past year due to the conflict, leaving many of them scared to return to the classroom, and in some cases with no schools left to attend. Schools and children must be protected at all times, Save the Children said.
There were at least 260 attacks on schools between May 2021 and April this year, according to Save the Children, with explosions in and around school buildings accounting for 190 - nearly three quarters - of the incidents.
In April this year, explosive devices were discovered at four schools or education offices, and there were three explosions in or very close to schools. There were also 33 recorded cases of schools or education offices being set on fire, and 10 direct attacks on teachers and education staff.
In March and April this year, Save the Children also recorded 10 incidents in which schools were occupied by armed actors in the 32 townships where its education teams work. It said the actual number of school occupations across the country is likely to be much higher.
Kyi*, 14 , from Magway Region, Myanmar, said: "I haven’t been to school since they closed due to COVID. I was a Grade 6 student before COVID. Due to the fighting, and unstable situation, teachers didn’t go back to our school and the village. There have been no teachers in my village since the fighting began. I think they have also had to flee and hide in a safe place like us due to the fighting. I now live in a temporary tent in a jungle after fleeing from my village.
"My dream is to be a businesswoman. My family’s small grocery store inspired the idea. I am unhappy and so sad when I think about my future. To become my dream, I think I must study hard and need better learning opportunities. I want to learn English, I want to learn other things at school, and I want to meet with my friends and teachers. It has been a long time since I have had a chance to meet with them."
Emma Wagner, head of Education Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children, said: "It’s really shocking that so many children are out of school, but when you think about it, it should come as no surprise. The COVID-19 pandemic propelled a worldwide education emergency for children. We raised the alarm early on that children were at risk of dropping out of school altogether due to being forced into labour or early marriage.
"In Myanmar, conflict has contributed to a perfect storm for the country’s children. Every one of these attacks on schools is an attack on the future of an entire generation of Myanmar children, who are missing out on the opportunity to learn. That’s something that we absolutely cannot and must not accept.
"We need to see an immediate end to attacks on schools."
Save the Children is urging the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to urgently take concrete action to protect the futures of children in Myanmar.
Myanmar also desperately needs more humanitarian assistance from the international community, Save the Children said, with the UN humanitarian response plan having less than 5% of the funding needed.
Save the Children implements programmes across Myanmar and its staff remain fully committed to helping the most vulnerable children in Myanmar, especially during this time of conflict and crisis.
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity
[i] Methodology for this estimate: Just over 25% of Myanmar’s population of an estimated 53.89 million is under 14, according to official statistics. This is roughly 13.5 million. 7.8 million is more than half of 13.5 million. It is likely that children over the age of 14 are even less likely to be in school.